Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, August 10, 2001


Charlotte Church.

Angelic visitation

Charlotte Church brings
her humble talent to town

By Scott Vogel

To read Charlotte Church's autobiography, "Voice of an Angel: My Life (So Far)," is to gain not only a glimpse into the mechanism by which 15-year-old Welsh crooners are turned into international superstars, but also insight into Church's progress toward angelhood.

One of the things one learns, even in the opening pages, is that all that stuff about heavenly choirs and the Voice of God is mostly the result of a collaboration between canny marketers and a transcendence-starved public. For her part, Church -- or Charl, as everyone calls her -- admits only to being a normal teenager with typical acquisitive tendencies (CDs, makeup, boy bands), and paradoxically it's this unaffected quality that makes the book a surprisingly compelling read.


Mauka Makai cover

Charlotte Church

>> What: In concert with the Honolulu Symphony
>> When: 8 p.m., Saturday
>> Place: Neal Blaisdell Center Arena, 777 Ward Ave.
>> Cost: $45-$65
>> Call: 792-2000

Not that there aren't cloying moments during, say, the opening description of a family get-together at Christmastime ("the house is filled with light and laughter"). But it isn't long before Church begins dropping details about her wacky family -- the rock 'n' roll-playing grandpa she calls Bampy, her cabaret-singing Aunt Caroline's travels on the Cardiff pub circuit (belting out the disco version of "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" as nonplused audience members sit reading the newspaper), the crocheted ensemble her mum wears to meet the Clintons, only to accidentally poke a hole in the dress with her fake nail. It's not exactly "A Child's Christmas in Wales" -- to Church's enormous credit -- and one only hopes the singer will preserve the connection to her humble, working-class roots as her own personal "VH1: Behind the Music" episode enters its second phase.

Her other asset is, of course, that amazing soprano voice, which descends upon the Blaisdell Arena tomorrow evening in a concert with the Honolulu Symphony. It's a voice that, angelic or otherwise, has sold more than 7 million albums worldwide and gained Church an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records (youngest artist ever to sit atop the Billboard Classical chart). And it's a voice that has been wowing audiences since Charl was 3 years old and sang an impromptu version of Gloria Estefan's "Anything for You" to an amazed audience of Cardiff pub-goers.

Charl's first big break came via the "Richard and Judy" show (think Regis and Kathie Lee with scones) when the 10-year-old phoned in -- literally -- a rendition of "Pie Jesu" that so stunned the hosts that they booked her immediately for a live performance. Lightning struck again when Church was asked to introduce her Aunt Caroline to the audience on "The Big, Big Talent Show." This was not supposed to be Charl's night. She was merely to set the stage for her aunt, who would presumably stun the crowd with her cabaret stylings and "a pair of black leather pants, a black see-through blouse and a black bra."

But it was not to be. Charl was coaxed into singing a few lines from "Pie Jesu," and soon, agents were beating down her door. Her aunt, meanwhile, placed second in the competition, losing out to the comic stylings of future trash-TV host Jenny Jones. Why the loss? The cabaret singer explains it to her niece. "'They put you on before me,' says Auntie Caroline when we talk about it now. 'I was singing my guts out, and they were still talking about you.'"

Church renders such anecdotes with humor and a gimlet-eyed wisdom into the fame biz that seems beyond her years. You can't wait to hear her take on Prince Charles' 50th-birthday gala during which the royal was feted by Joan Collins and former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell, and Church does not disappoint. "His ears weren't as big as I thought they'd be," she writes, later expressing appropriate befuddlement when the prince suggests that the 15-year-old drink port to keep her singing voice in tune.

And for a precise gauge of just how out of touch Britain's royals are, you have only to read Church's account of her meeting with Queen Elizabeth after her first album, "Voice of an Angel," had already gone double platinum. ("'Tell me,' she said in a very posh voice, 'do you sing often?'")

There's more, much more, including her 1999 visit to the Clinton White House -- "I kept thinking about the scene in 'Independence Day' where it's blown up and thinking how great it would be if Will Smith came running in to rescue us." But just when you think our Charl is lost in a world of superstar glitz and high-powered Washington, her mum deflates everything with a prick of her fake nail.

"Oh, my God, there's Beau Bridges," screams Mrs. Church, and in one stroke Charlotte is back in the world of the pub-crawling proletariat and its welcome Welsh unfanciness. To some, this kind of common touch might run counter to the expectations a singer like Church commands, especially one with a voice that frequently leaves audiences in tears, groping fitfully for words to describe the ineffable. But it's just one more aspect of Church's charm, an unpretentious folksiness from which the frequently stuffy world of classical music could sorely benefit.

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