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Dancing Queen

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At last, a diva who listens to criticism. After one of her flashy disco-pop concerts, Kylie Minogue rushes to get the postmortem from her sister Dannii, also a singer-actress in their native Australia as well as the U.K., where both live. “My sister will be entirely honest with me about the show, which is slightly terrifying,” says Kylie. “She’ll go, ‘Well, it was good, but you need to talk to the choreographer because the dance movements weren’t completely in line.'”

Professional critics haven’t always lined up perfectly behind Minogue either. The 34-year-old has admitted that “there are buskers [street musicians] who are better than me,” but hey, pop-dom is about “luck, magic, timing,” says John Marx, agent to Mariah Carey and Sheryl Crow. Minogue, who has sold more than 30 million records overseas, is scoring on all three fronts in the U.S. Her infectious dance track “Can’t Get You Out of My Head,” released earlier this year, became her first Stateside hit since her 1988 remake of “The Loco-Motion.” A follow-up single, “Love at First Sight,” is climbing the charts.

Having started in 1986 as the squeaky-clean star of Australia’s TV drama Neighbours, Minogue was for years “a soap star with a bad haircut,” says biographer Sean Smith. “Now Kylie is really a pocket-sized J.Lo.” A 5’1″ pixie who wears size 0, Minogue is so idolized in Europe that visitors to London’s Madame Tussaud’s wax museum have been known to steal the panties off her statue. Recently her raunchy ad for a British lingerie line was banned, and her butt “appears to have become a national obsession,” Minogue told Britain’s The Times in March.

At home the sexy image extinguished the memory of her girl-next-door TV role. Growing up in Melbourne with Dannii, now 30, and brother Brendan, 32, a cameraman, Minogue made her TV debut on a soap at age 11 thanks to the encouragement of her accountant dad, Ron, and mom Carol, a former ballet dancer. She broke out on Neighbours at 17, but her acting stalled in movies like 1996’s Bio-Dome, with Pauly Shore, her boyfriend for five months. “She’s interesting, she’s sweet, she’s original,” he says. “She’s a total workaholic.”

Minogue had a bit part in last year’s Moulin Rouge with Nicole Kidman—a friend who calls her “a survivor” and plans to record a duet with her—but her concerts are her real forte. Onstage Min (as her friends call her) wears Dolce & Gabbana costumes, including one Barbarella number with thigh-high silver boots. “Kylie is like the perfect Barbie doll,” says Stefano Gabbana. Her idea of fun, though, is to storm into Kmart with friends and spend “$20 on an outfit they have to wear out that night,” says her U.S. acting agent Rob Marsala.

The fun was shattered in 1997, when Minogue learned that INXS front man Michael Hutchence—her boyfriend from 1989 to ’91—had committed suicide. “She went through hell,” recalled Jeremy Joseph, who promoted the London charity event at which she sang the same evening. “I feel infinitely sad that he’s not here,” she said in 1998.

Lately her two-year relationship with English model James Gooding, 27, has been plagued by reports of breakups and his infidelity, but Minogue rose to his defense in May. “He’s cool, loving, gorgeous and supportive,” she told The Sun. Together they spend much of their time in the kitchen—where Gooding runs the show. “Performing in front of 12,000 is fine,” she says, “but cooking a successful dinner is an equal triumph.”

Kevin Airs in Sydney, Rachel Felder in New York City, Pete Norman, Liz Corcoran, Caris Davis and Chris Skidmore in London and Julie Jordan and Teena Hammond in Los Angeles