Britney Spears is behaving more like her soon to be ex-husband, Kevin Federline, than a pop princess on the verge of a career comeback.
Fresh from her split from the club-hopping Federline, Spears looked hip and wholesome weeks ago in a surprise appearance on David Letterman's show and while ice skating in New York's Rockefeller Center in a Gap sweater. But now she's unleashing her inner wild child, running around with party girls Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, sporting unflattering hair extensions and flashing her apparently panty-less crotch to the paparazzi. (Be prepared to cringe if you dare to view the uncensored photos, splashed unceremoniously across the Web).
"She's a beautiful girl and now that she's single and she's having fun, I think she's just trying to express herself," said New York-based celebrity image consultant Amanda Sanders. "Unfortunately, it's the wrong message that's coming across. And the shame is she was really such a role model."
Spears, who turns 25 on Saturday, and Hilton were inseparable while hitting L.A. hotspots over the holiday weekend. People magazine reported Wednesday on its Web site that the duo will co-host the 2006 Billboard Music Awards, scheduled to air live in Las Vegas on Monday (Fox, 8 p.m. EST).
Representatives for Hilton and Spears did not respond to messages Wednesday.
She's enjoying the single life — and who can blame her after putting up with K-Fed's antics? — but many Spears watchers disapprove of her decision to cavort with Hollywood's most infamous heiress.
In a post on Spears' MySpace.com page, a female fan urged Spears "to read this so you understand how your fans may see the situation ... now your children need you so do the right thing brit, and be a mother and forget the partying."
Rosie O'Donnell said Wednesday on "The View" that Spears should stop bonding with Hilton and move in with her, her partner Kelli and their kids so she could have a "stable family around her."
Can the mother of two young sons return to the sexy yet sweet Britney of yore?
Maybe, maybe not. But she might reconnect with her fans by making savvy career moves, said Entertainment Weekly magazine executive editor Lori Majewski — like doing a duet with ex-boyfriend Justin Timberlake, or sitting — not jumping — on Oprah Winfrey's couch.
"The public can be very forgiving and, you know, if she were to go on Oprah, the court of public opinion could quickly turn," Majewski said.
"A few tears and the words `I'm sorry' can go a long, long way. Or `I'm embarrassed' or `I didn't mean to' ... But the ultimate key to the success of a future career for her is a new — it doesn't have to be a wholesome image — but a new, cleaned-up image and a hot single."
The girl's worth millions and probably has "fabulous things" spilling out of her closet, Sanders said, but that's not enough to buy class.
It is enough, however, to buy a stylist.
"Now she's got awful extensions and her hair just looks — it looks cheap," Sanders said. "And I don't want to use Tara Reid as a shining example, but, you know ..."
It's your turn, Britney. Now go and give Oprah a call.