| LOS ANGELES
LOS ANGELES A year ago, Britney Spears was taking court-ordered drug and alcohol tests, had fired her managers, was losing custody of her kids, and some journalists were preparing her obituary.
This week, she was caring for her children like any mother would when she rushed 2-year-old Jayden James to a hospital after a bad reaction to something he ate. As for her career, only one week ago she was on stage performing with Madonna and on the brink of an extraordinary musical comeback.
Industry watchers wonder whether Spears, 26, can win back the young, fickle fans now accustomed to watching her fall apart, or if she can stage a comeback like pop diva Mariah Carey. She spent several years in a slump before rebounding to charttopper status with 2005 album "The Emancipation of Mimi."
"You can only have so many second chances and this is definitely one of those now or never moments," said Ellen Carpenter, a senior editor at Spin magazine.
Ten years after she burst onto the world stage as a perky 17-year-old and scored hit songs including "... Baby One More Time," Spears seems to have pulled her life and career out of the toilet with a hit single, a new album due out in December, a tell-all documentary and talk of her first tour since 2004.
Spears' first single "Womanizer," off her Dec 2. album "Circus," was a good omen. It leapt to the top of Billboard's Hot 100 singles chart in October and went to No.1 on iTunes charts in Canada, France, Spain and Sweden.
But in an era of falling record sales, the big money in the music industry is made through live shows. Spears, who has done only a handful of live performances since 2005, is expected to launch a world tour early next year.
"Nothing in this economic environment is a slam dunk," said Gary Bongiovanni, editor of concert magazine Pollstar.
"When an artist stays off the scene for a couple of years, it is impossible to tell how much that audience has gravitated elsewhere until you put tickets on sale," Bongiovanni said.
Spears made headlines for all the wrong reasons in 2007 and early 2008 -- shaving her head, partying without panties, two hospitalizations for psychiatric checks, losing custody of her sons and giving a laughable performance at an MTV Awards show.
As the sexy young pop star who sold more than 60 million records in her heyday gave way to an erratic, disheveled divorcee, her musical and personal obituary was being written.
"Last year, it didn't seem like she would ever come out of it. Her falling apart was bigger than anybody, even Michael Jackson. I don't know if anyone in pop music has fallen that low and come back," Carpenter said.
But since February, when Spears' father Jamie took over her business and personal affairs, the singer has reunited with the manager who made her a star, won three MTV Video Music Awards, recorded her sixth studio album and relaunched her Web site.
She will mark the release of "Circus" with a November 30 TV documentary about her darkest days and an appearance, on her 27th birthday, on U.S. TV chat show "Good Morning America."
Still, Bongiovanni said it may be hard for fans to separate Spears the pop star from Spears the pop problem. "Are they coming to see you because they think a train wreck is about to happen, or because they really like your music?" he said.
(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Todd Eastham)