| NEW ORLEANS
NEW ORLEANS Britney Spears kicked off her first tour in five years on Tuesday, promoting her latest hit album "Circus" before an adoring hometown audience with jugglers, acrobats, rings of flame and lip syncing.
"Britney's my girl. I knew she'd be great," said Chris Peterson, 28, who drove to New Orleans from Pensacola, Florida, for the concert. "I've been a fan since I was 14."
The pop star, attempting a comeback after a high-profile meltdown, pulled out all the stops before a sell-out crowd of 16,400 to launch her much-anticipated world tour.
Spears, 27, became a worldwide phenomenon when she burst onto the music scene 10 years ago after breaking into show business on the "Mickey Mouse Club" television show.
But she has done only a handful of live concerts in recent years as her personal life careered out of control, including stints in psychiatric care, an ugly divorce, losing custody of her two sons, shaving her head and partying without panties.
Back on stage, Spears looked fit and dazzling dressed as a ringmaster as she performed more than a dozen songs in a parade of skimpy costumes.
The launch of her 44-concert tour, which heads to Britain in June, was heavy on spectacle and was met with wild applause and cheers.
The circus-themed production featured Spears strutting and gyrating through extravagant sets on three stages, surrounded by dancers, martial artists and performers who dropped from the rafters on fabric streamers and mechanical rings.
Launching her tour in New Orleans gave Spears the chance to mount her comeback near her hometown of Kentwood, Louisiana.
She seems to have pulled herself together in the past year, with support from her father Jamie, who took control of her affairs in a court-ordered conservatorship after the singer's bizarre public behavior.
Spears has also focused on her family, spending more time with her children and insisting that her sons, Sean Preston and Jayden, be allowed to accompany her on tour.
Her return to the concert circuit and sales of her album appear to be a measure of her ability to still attract the attention she once garnered from fans around the world.
"Circus," her sixth studio album, debuted at No. 1 in the United States and five other countries when it was released in December and won her three MTV Video Music Awards.
But some fans at the New Orleans show were disappointed that she remained distant from her loyal supporters.
"I hoped she would talk directly to the audience, especially since this is her home, but she didn't say anything," said Kelly Dupont, who lives in nearby Baton Rouge.
New Orleans resident Stephanie Chandler, who saw a live performance by Spears eight years ago, was harsher.
"I was very disappointed. She's just not in it," Chandler said. "If you're going to lip sync, then you'd better bring on the dancing, but she didn't."
(Editing by John O'Callaghan)