The 14 year old opera prodigy takes aim at mainstream success

By Mickey O'Connor
Updated January 19, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST
Church: Suzanne Plunkett/AP Worldwide

Charlotte Church is probably the only teen sensation most American teens have never heard of. But the 14 year old Welsh soprano (whose mostly middle aged audience gets down to her signature tune, ”Pie Jesu”) has plans to change that. For starters, Church will take the stage at Carnegie Hall Jan. 19 as part of an eclectic lineup that includes Eric Clapton, Whitney Houston, and Destiny’s Child. The concert, to benefit the Wyclef Jean Foundation for music education, is a step toward a more mainstream career. While she dismisses the idea that she’ll turn into the next Britney or Christina, she WILL take this year off from recording to find ”another voice” — and to complete the 10th grade. caught up with her recently in New York City to find out why the toast of the opera set enjoys kicking it old school with Wyclef and Eminem.

There’s been a lot of talk that you want to become a pop singer.
Not quite pop. I’m not going to show my belly and be a sex kitten. But I want to try different things with my voice. Before I went to singing lessons, I used to sing like Whitney Houston. I know there are definitely more voices [inside me] and I just want to try them out, see which I prefer, and see which type of music they suit. I’m just going to go wherever my voice leads me.

Do you have plans for a new album?
No, not really. I’m probably going to take this year off from recording an album because I’ve done three in a row and it’s so tiring. I just need a bit of time off to be with family and to do more concerts.

And I hear you have a book coming out. Tell me about it.
It’s completely my own words, but it’s not an autobiography. Okay, it’s about my life, but it would be stupid to write a book about my life at 14.

True. What’s it called?
”Voice of an Angel” [rolling her eyes].

Why do you make that face?
I guess [being called an angel] doesn’t bother me anymore. It’s just that I’ve got a strong sense of irony about it now. I can’t mention my angel status without saying my wings have gone into hiding.

Does that mean you’ve become mischievous?
Well, when I was 12, and they’d say, ”Oh, [she has] the voice of an angel,” it was probably true. I was a bit of an angel then. But, you know, I do have my little moods. It’s not like I’m sneaking out to go clubbing, but I’m not going to be false and say, ”Me and my parents love each other SO much and we NEVER argue and I’m perfect” because it’s a complete lie and my nose would grow like Pinocchio.

Besides your age, how are you different from most opera singers?
I don’t do ball gowns. I’ll wear a nice pair of trousers and a glitzy top, but oh God, I can’t be doing the big dresses.

Why not?
Well, I suppose it’s just old fashioned. When you imagine an opera singer — not all of them, mind you, it’s changing — you imagine someone who’s huge, with her big cleavage, and a green puffy dress on and it’s just nasty. You’re thinking: What an amazing voice; it’s a shame about the dress.

Do you identify more with pop musicians?
I think Gwen Stefani [of No Doubt] is great. I really like Jill Scott and Kelis and Lauryn Hill and Destiny’s Child. I like Sade’s new album.

No ‘N Sync or Backstreet Boys on that list?
No, I’m not a boy band fan at all. I went through about a two day boy band phase and then I just lost interest. I mean, I think they’re great for the age groups that they appeal to and…

But that’s YOUR age group…
Yeah, I know. They’re good and they’re very entertaining and I know that they work really hard, but there’s just too many of them around. I just got bored because all their songs sounded the same.

Okay, so how did you meet Wyclef?
Well, I went on the MTV Awards in 1999 and the MTV people said, ”We want you to present with somebody really different from you: Limp Bizkit.” And I went, ”No!”

Why not?
Well, just their reputation. I like their music. I love the ”Mission: Impossible” song, but it was like, well, they’re just going to really badly dis me openly and I don’t want that, and I would just give them attitude and we’d just go around. But then apparently Fred Durst said he was really upset because he’s a big fan. Anyway, then [the MTV people] said, ”How about Wyclef Jean?” And I was like, ”Oh yeah, great.” I mean, I love the Fugees, and I love ”Gone Till November,” so I said, ”Yeah, that’ll be cool.” So we did it and we gave the award to Eminem. [applauding].

You like Eminem?
I do. I’ve gone off him, though. I mean, it’s like, you listen to his album and you say, I’m fed up with anger. I’m done with it. I do like him, but he’s really nasty. I think it’s all an act. I think he actually could be quite a nice person. But it was really bad what he said about Christina Aguilera [Em implied that Aguilera had performed oral sex on both Carson Daly and Fred Durst]. If he’d said that about me, I’d have punched him in the nose.

What will you be performing at Carnegie Hall?
I have no idea. I want to try something different. It’ll definitely be something with Wyclef, so he’ll be rapping over whatever I sing. I don’t think I’ll try rapping myself. British people sound silly rapping.