From Whoa to Wow: The Transformation of Nelly Furtado

The new sexy, sultry Nelly Furtado laughs when she looks at the girlishly cute Nelly Furtado we first got to know in the video for her 2001 hit single "I'm Like a Bird."

"They surprised me with it on a show in Britain," Furtado told "I saw it and I was like, 'Wow.' I kind of had that pixie, spunky quality. ... I remember how Janet Jackson looked on the cover when she came out with 'Janet' compared to her 'Control' days -- so womanly, so sexy. I'm at a point in my life where I am coming into my own as a woman. I feel most alive, sexy."

Even Furtado's most loyal fans may have had initial difficulty recognizing her when they saw her video for "Promiscuous," the first single off her new CD "Loose."

A hip-hop beat, honed by rapper-producer Timbaland, replaced the pop and folk sound Furtado presented in her 2000 Grammy-winning debut album "Whoa Nelly!" and 2004's "Folklore." The ponytailed (or sometimes pig-tailed) pop songstress who sang to birds while frolicking in a grass field in "I'm Like a Bird" let her hair down -- literally. Jeans, full-length T-shirts and sneakers were replaced with high-riding dresses, midriff-baring tops and high heels. Furtado's toothy grin transformed into a pout and come-hither smirk.

So far, the music and image makeovers have paid off. "Loose" debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's top album charts last week, and "Promiscuous" has topped the singles charts for the past two weeks.

"Maybe they liked my rapping," Furtado said, laughing. "I've never had a No. 1 album before. ... I think the people can tell we had a good vibe, had a lot of fun making the album. I tend to have a lot of ideas in certain sections of my brain and I decided to release my 'urban weapon.' Like the saying goes, sometimes it's best to surprise people when they least expect it."

The Difference Between Has-Beens and The Beatles

And surprising people -- with either a new sound, a new image or unexpected artistic venture -- is part of the celebrity evolution process. It could make the difference between a has-been and a franchise. It separates the flash-in-the-pans from The Beatles, the Bob Dylans and Miles Davises of the world.

"In a world of iPods and Xboxes, where people have increasingly short attention spans, artists must constantly evolve to be remembered 10, 20, 50 years from now," said Ronn Torossian, CEO and founder of 5W Public Relations. "They must evolve to become considered among the Elvises and Beatles of the world. Madonna has been an example of a classic reinvention. And the way the music industry is going these days, artists are not relying on album sales but are trying to turn their name into a brand."

50 Cent has parlayed a gang-banger reputation fueled by his surviving nine gunshot wounds in a 2000 shooting into millions in CD sales and a mini branding empire. Besides topping the charts with his 2003 debut "Get Rich or Die Tryin'" and "The Massacre" in 2005, 50 Cent -- whose real name is Curtis Jackson -- starred in his own video game "Bulletproof." He was also the star of a semi-autobiographical movie that shared the name of his debut CD. In addition, Reebok has sold shoes and a line of apparel and Jacob and Co. launched watches under 50 Cent's G-Unit group's brand. 50 Cent has also been a spokesman for Glaceau vitamin water.

Despite his public persona, don't believe that 50 Cent behaves like a gangsta behind the scenes in business dealings. Curtis Jackson, observers say, is a very professional businessman.

"To the public, he is known as a gangsta, a gang banger -- for surviving those gunshots," Torossian said. "But 50 Cent is a successful businessman because he is on time for his appointments and says 'please' and 'thank you.'"

Reinventing -- and Breaking -- the Wheel

Still, others have distanced themselves from a public persona to adopt a new image -- with mixed results.

Before they posed nude on magazine covers and embraced more risqué lyrics and images, early in their careers both Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera were Mouseketeers and were promoted as clean-cut role models for teen girls. The spotlight hasn't been kind to Spears, with constant headlines questioning her parenting skills and the stability of her marriage to former dancer Kevin Federline.

Aguilera, however, has stayed out of the spotlight for most of the past two years, gotten married to a quiet accountant and is set to release another CD. Unlike Spears, her vocal talent has never been questioned by critics, and she has a single, "Ain't No Other Man," climbing up the Billboard charts.

"Britney Spears needs a reinvention. She also needs a new makeup artist, as seen on that interview with Matt Lauer on 'Dateline,'" Torossian said. "She needs to disappear for a while, to just be sent away where no one can find her."

Snoop Dogg was considered a hardcore gangsta rapper when he began his career on Death Row Records in 1992. But after he was acquitted of murder and manslaughter in the shooting death of a gang member in 1996, he broke away from Death Row and slowly began to soften his image. He has appeared on shows such as "The View" and has been a pitchman with Lee Iacocca for Chrysler. He currently appears in a new commercial for Orbit chewing gum that pokes fun at the filthy language he has tended to use in his raps and rhymes.

As one-half of Wham!, George Michael was a clean-shaven, always-smiling teen heartthrob. But after he parted ways with partner Andrew Ridgeley in 1985, Michael grew more serious, grew hair stubble on his face and launched a very successful solo career with "Faith."

Justin Timberlake also adopted a more "manly" look when he broke away from his boy band *NSYNC and launched his multi-platinum-selling first solo album, "Justified," in 2002. He cut the curly brown locks, stopped shaving, and was -- perhaps inadvertently -- involved in the infamous "wardrobe malfunction" incident at the 2004 Super Bowl where Janet Jackson exposed her breast to the audience during a halftime performance. (Timberlake denied previous knowledge of any plans to show off Jackson's bare boob.) Now Timberlake says he adopted a new sound influenced by David Bowie and David Byrne in an upcoming new album so that he would continue to evolve as an artist.

Ricky Martin hasn't been so successful in his latest reinvention experiment. He has had to reinvent himself several times -- from his initial rise to teen stardom as the lead singer of Menudo, to a role on "General Hospital," to a one-year stint on Broadway in "Les Miserables" and the launch of his solo recording career.

He has failed to duplicate the success he enjoyed with his self-titled 1999 English language debut album, which was a perennial chart topper and sold 17 million copies worldwide. On the cover of his last CD, 2005's "Life," Martin is not shaking his bon-bon. He displays a tattoo on his shoulder and sports -- surprise, surprise -- chin stubble. The album attempted to portray Martin as a more serious, brooding reflective artist, but fans didn't buy it. "Life" peaked at No. 6 on Billboard in its first week of release before eventually falling out of the Top 100.

Knowing Your Audience and Yourself

Still, not all artists have needed to reinvent themselves to enjoy enduring appeal. For artists like Bon Jovi, Rod Stewart, and Barbra Streisand, consistency may be the secret to their success.

"Bon Jovi has a top-charting single ['Who Says You Can't Go Home']. They've done a fairly good job of staying the same while maintaining a very loyal fan base," said Richard Kirshenbaum, chairman of Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners, a New York City-based creative advertising agency. "They have a very strong core audience. They may be driven by a sense of nostalgia, but they love Bon Jovi and who he is. The same with Barbra Streisand and Rod Stewart.

"All these artists have grown older, but their fans haven't seen real change," Kirshenbaum continued. "Rod Stewart still looks like Rod Stewart and sounds like Rod Stewart, just an older version. These are all people who have identified who their audience is. At some point you [as an artist] must decide who you are."

Nelly Furtado hopes to further evolve as an artist. She believes her evolution has coincided with her growth as a mother.

She has a 2-year-old daughter who has accompanied her on her promotional tour for "Loose." Furtado said she doesn't hide her career from her daughter because that is part of who she is. And her daughter is her biggest fan -- and critic -- of "Loose."

"I've played it for her in the car and she didn't care for the ballads," Furtado said. "She kept saying, 'Give me the beat. Give me the beat.' ... I haven't played 'I'm Like a Bird' for her yet."

At only age 27, Furtado hopes to be around for a long time.

"I admire artists who can evolve," Furtado said. "It's so inspiring to me. I loved Celia Cruz -- she was continuing to perform into her 70s. I hope I can someday be considered along some of the people in that realm."