Several years ago, I wrote a column praising a sweet and talented Welsh girl named Charlotte Church. A singer of arias and sacred songs, she possessed an uncommon sense of modesty and decorum in the skin-baring age of Britney Spears. Charlotte had the face and voice of an angel. Her signature piece was "Pie Jesu" (Blessed Jesus). Her favorite keepsake was a rosary blessed by the pope.
Or so she said at the time. Now, alas, the once-charming Charlotte is the new face of skankdom. And you won't believe what she's saying about the pope.
The 20-year-old entertainer has rebelled against the wholesome image that brought her fame, fortune and worldwide respect as a rare role model for young girls. She has traded in "Pie Jesu" for "Crazy Chick" -- a lousy pop anthem even Ashlee Simpson wouldn't be caught performing. Charlotte's gone from pure-hearted to pure crap. These days, she drinks, she smokes, she curses, she fights, she parties, and she tries very, very hard to shock and offend -- like a trashier Lindsay Lohan, only with better pipes.
Charlotte has a new talk show in England, where she plays a profanity-spewing hostess who is part Rosie O'Donnell, part Keith Olbermann (she has bashed President Bush as "clueless" and a "twat") and completely unhinged. The pilot episode featured Charlotte calling Pope Benedict XVI a Nazi, dressing as a nun and pretending to hallucinate while eating communion wafers imprinted with smiley faces (symbolizing the drug Ecstasy). The Catholic News Service reported last month that the pilot also showed Church smashing a statue of the Virgin Mary to reveal a can of fortified wine. To top off her anti-Catholic snit, she stuck chewing gum on a statue of the child Jesus.
The sketch was scrapped from the show's debut, but in the most recent episode aired last week, Church strapped herself to a cross, Madonna-wannabe-style. As one viewer complained in a message quoted by the Daily Mail: "This woman may have had the voice of an angel in the past but now she has the foul mouth of a sewer rat." Some observers saw this coming back in 2001, when she trashed New Yorkers at Ground Zero soon after the terrorist attacks: "Everyone there has to relate themselves to it. They are like 'Yeah, my neighbor's dogs' owners' sister's dog was involved, but he got out just in time. It was a bit sick. People overdramatise and lose perspective."
In response to our celebration of New York firefighters' heroism, the self-absorbed Church was quoted saying: "They went from here in society to celebrities. They are even invited here to present television awards, which I just don't agree with."
Because only half-naked, blaspheming pop tarts should be allowed on television, eh, Charlotte?
The corruption of Charlotte Church is a sorry little sign of how innocence and grace have lost their mass appeal -- even as parents claim to want age-appropriate role models for their daughters. A survey of 1,010 mothers with daughters 4 to 9 years old, released this week, reported that 90 percent of the moms "believe there are not enough wholesome role models, celebrities, characters and brands for young girls to emulate." Some 85 percent of those polled said they are "tired of the 'sexpot' dolls/characters" currently available.
They say that -- and yet, the doll market is clogged with best-selling Bratz babies in thongs and Barbies with bling.
The survey was commissioned by AG Properties, owners of the wholesome Strawberry Shortcake, Care Bears and Holly Hobbie toy lines. Perhaps it's time for moms lamenting the skankification of their little girls' world to put their money where their mouths are.
Not that it's so easy. I confess I broke down and let my 6-year-old daughter have a Bratz lunchbox. Now she wants to be a Bratz doll for Halloween, an idea that warrants only one word (a word not said often enough): "No."
Charlotte's fall was not inevitable. But good girls need grown-ups to keep them from going out of style.