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Can Justin get his mojo back? Will fans dig Outkast's way-back sound ...


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— by Gil Kaufman, with additional reporting by Corey Moss

If 2005 was all about the comebacks (Mariah Carey) and the coronations (Kanye West), 2006 is shaping up to be the year of proof and promise. After several years out of the limelight, artists like Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake, Evanescence, Busta Rhymes and the Fugees look to prove that they still have it or never lost it, while Fall Out Boy, the Game, Maroon 5 and My Chemical Romance hope to show us that their last albums were not fluke hits, but foundations for a big future.

Ex-"Newlyweds" Nick and Jessica are slated to square off in the record bins, Outkast are prepping a twice-delayed soundtrack to their movie debut, Beyoncé is putting together solo album #2 and Paris Hilton swears she's going to blow our minds with her debut. All that and a truckload more will be coming our way this year. Here's a rundown of the most anticipated albums.

 Justin Timberlake
We'll find out if he can act this year, but will he be able to regain his music mojo?

He's acting ("Black Snake Moan," "Alpha Dog") and he's launched a clothing line, but when will we hear a follow-up to 2002's Justified? Perhaps soon. Justin told us he's written 15-20 songs so far, and plans to have them finessed by Timbaland. "It moves in a different direction than the last record," Timberlake said cryptically. "I'm really happy with that." His label says to expect something in 2006.

Prediction: He's moved well beyond the boy-band tag and smartly salted songs by Snoop and Pharrell to tide us over. He's got cred and pipes, now he just needs the tunes.
Outkast
Will fans dig a way-back sound from the funky ATLiens?

It's been moved and pushed more times than Shaq in the paint, but Outkast's soundtrack to their upcoming film, "Idlewild," is finally coming out in February ... we hope. What we do know is that the first single is "Idlewild Blues," according to Big Boi. OK, that's not confirmed either. According to Boi, the album features 14 tracks, including "The Train," and it will be relatively free of cameos, except for frequent Outkast collaborator Sleepy Brown and Janelle Monae. Boi said the album mirrors the jazz-era leanings of the "Idlewild" film, which is due out sometime in 2006. "The movie's set in the 1930s, so there's a lot of piano playing, a lot of ragtime, Cab Calloway, Jelly Roll [Morton]. A lot of different stuff on the album," he said. "It's a very mature album, it's rapping and everything else. You've got to expect what you always expect from Outkast, and that's the unexpected."

Prediction: With a hot streak this long, they could put out an album of jug-band music and fans would probably pick it up.
Christina Aguilera
Dirrty or clean?

Now that Aguilera is back from her honeymoon, she can concentrate on finishing the follow-up to 2002's Stripped, which she called a "throwback to the 1920s, '30s and '40s" in a post on her paid fan site. That fits with the pinup-glamour-queen look she's been sporting lately. "Some of the songs are kept authentic, sticking to a really raw, old-soul sound, where others combine elements of old blues, jazz and soul with a hard modern-day edge," she explained. She said the untitled album, due in the spring, is her "best work yet."

Prediction: It's been four years, but with pipes that strong, fans are likely to take notice no matter what decade she's coming from.


NEXT: Maroon 5 look to Prince for inspiration, and the Game doesn't let the beef with 50 slow him down. Plus Beyoncé, Mase, Pink and more ...
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Photo: Getty Images

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  Justin Timberlake
"Cry Me a River" (live)

Justin Timberlake performs on TRL
(Jive)



  Beyoncé
"Naughty Girl"
Dangerously In Love
(Columbia)



  Christina Aguilera
"Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas"
My Kind of Christmas
(RCA)



  The Game
"Put You on the Game"
The Documentary
(Universal)



  Maroon 5
"Harder to Breathe" (live)
Live Friday the 13th
(BMG)



  Jessica Simpson
"These Boots Are Made for Walkin' "
Music From The Motion Picture "The Dukes Of Hazzard"
(Sony)




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