Voice of an Angel: My Life (So Far)
by Charlotte Church
Published by Warner Books
232 pages, 2001
Buy it online
Life of an Angel
Reviewed by Lincoln Cho
Of all the autobiographies of people who shouldn't have them yet -- people too young or frankly unaccomplished to have merited a whole book on the topic of their narrow or shallow life -- the autobiography of Charlotte Church surely has to top the list. Though she is certainly not unaccomplished (Church has already performed for the Pope, met the President of the United States and performed with Ricky Martin: you decide which is the most impressive) she's also 15 years old. Fifteen. No matter how you slice it, 15 is scraping the bottom of the experience barrel, or at least, so one would hope.
You simply can't begin a review of an autobiography of a 15-year-old without first offering up some comments on the crazy nature of a world where enough people care about the wisdoms that a 15-year-old might impart to publish a book about it. It's almost too kooky to contemplate. Think of it: what precisely could any person who has yet to witness her 15th autumn possibly offer any but the simplest reader, other than perhaps, tips to learn how to sing well? Michener, Faulkner, Nabokov: all of these were brilliant thinkers, but could they have kept us spellbound for 232 pages before they were fully out of puberty? I kind of doubt it.
And yet, Charlotte Church is special. There's just no avoiding it. Some freak of genetics and physics has left the child with a pair of pipes that would -- if her most vocal fans are to be believed -- put an angel to shame. And in a world where every "overnight sensation" seems to have spent at least a decade or two preparing for their success -- paying their dues and otherwise gearing up -- Church is just such a sensation: A child so unexpectedly talented, she was swept from childhood straight into international stardom on the classical level. It boggles the mind.
In case you missed the story of Church's discovery, Voice of an Angel enlightens you. Here's what happened: Church had accompanied a reportedly (Church's reportage) talented aunt to a talent competition. This was to be Aunt Caroline's big break. Way back in mid-1997, Caroline, a cabaret singer, was going to be a contestant on the London-based The Big, Big Talent Show. Unlike other talent shows, on The Big, Big Talent Show, a family member introduces the star-in-waiting. The producers, upon meeting Charlotte and seeing a tape of a television performance she'd done a half year earlier, asked her to introduce her aunt and sing a few lines of that popular hit number "Pie Jesu" before Caroline went on.
The conversation between Church and the emcee, Jonathan Ross, went like this, according to the singer herself.
"And I hear you have a terrific voice, too, don't you?" said Jonathan. "But it's a different sort of style than your auntie's, isn't it?"
One would think that Charlotte Church, international talent in the making -- the voice and face of an angel -- would have been a tough act to follow. But follow Caroline did:
And then out came Auntie Caroline. She looked fabulous. She looked like a rock 'n' roll star.
Contrast this to the 11-year-old angel singing religious standards in a clear, operatic soprano and wearing "a beige skirt and brown T-shirt," with her hair "in a ponytail."
In Caroline's words, as reported by Church in Voice of an Angel, "I was singing my guts out and they were still talking about you." Caroline didn't win, but the show ended up being Charlotte's "big break." Not long after, Church was booked to her first engagement. She sang a solo at the Festival of Welsh Mixed Voices at the Royal Albert Hall: a solo among "850 choirs from all over Wales."
A few weeks later I sang at the London Palladium, which is another fabulous venue. One day I was just a schoolgirl, and the next day I was a performer at one of the most palatial theaters in London. It was amazing.
As much as you might want to sneer at Voice of an Angel, it's a compelling story, told with all the candor and enthusiasm of a... well... a 15-year-old. Charlotte Church is, of course, a superstar whose magnitude cannot yet be measured. But, as she stresses repeatedly in Voice of an Angel: she's really just a normal teenager who happens to be doing a lot of not-so-normal things. Even if you forget the fact that normal teenagers seldom buy their families posh new homes in better neighborhoods, Church's life is hardly normal. And yet, in Voice of an Angel the unaffected exuberance of mid-teenageness comes through on almost every page.
"The MTV awards were so exciting because I met many famous pop stars," Church writes gushingly. Going on to recount meeting Eminem, Wyclef Jean, Will Smith and David Bowie. Church reports on wearing bunny slippers in the studio when she recorded her first album to make her feel "comfortable, as though I were still at home," and that she gets 60 pounds a week as allowance, which she spends on "clothes and CDs and makeup." Though she also writes about "sacking" her ex-manager ("Still, this experience taught me that the world isn't always a nice place."), turning on the White House Christmas tree and hanging with Peter Grosslight, senior vice president and worldwide head of music of the William Morris Agency, none of it seems to detract from her claims for normalcy. The voice seems so sincerely "golly, gosh, gee" that it's difficult to not just feel happy for this charming, gifted child.
And maybe that's enough. Maybe it's all as it should be. A happy autobiography of someone still so young, it's untainted. Wholly innocent. Unlike so many autobiographies, there is no searing soul searching, no recoveries from alcoholism, failed marriages, bouts with nasty drugs. Just Church's voice -- clean and pure -- babbling prettily about all that she has seen. It's enough. | August 2001
Lincoln Cho is a freelance writer and contributing editor to Blue Coupe magazine.