Singing nun goes viral on YouTube

Sister Cristina belts out Alicia Keys number attracting 47 million views

A true if unlikely tale: Young woman enrolls at a drama school sponsored by nuns, where the artistic director is a former Italian erotic film actress who redirected her career after a religious awakening. The students are selected to perform before the pope at St. Peter’s Square, but during rehearsals the young woman fractures an ankle.

Unable to perform, the young woman, Cristina Scuccia, acts on a persistent spiritual tug and commits to becoming a nun. She travels to Brazil to work with poor children and then returns to Italy to live quietly in a convent in Milan. Except she is still a talented singer, so talented that she wins a Christian singing competition, and then auditions on March 19 for Italy's version of the television show The Voice.

There, dressed in a full habit, with the crowd on its feet and a tattooed rap-star judge fighting back tears, she belts out a hip-shaking rendition of No One by Alicia Keys, that brings down the house and quickly goes viral on the Internet, topping 47 million views on YouTube. Gossip magazines have splashed her on their covers in her habit and featured her in articles.

“It’s a very good piece of content,” said a smiling Marco Tombolini, a producer of the program, who has seen its ratings jump sharply. “It just is.”


"Content" is the digital-age term for what once was called a story, and in Italy few stories match that of Sister Cristina, who is now 25. Both Keys and Whoopi Goldberg, the star of Sister Act, the 1992 comedy hit about singing nuns, have offered praise on Twitter. Sister Cristina has since won a "battle round" by outdueling another contestant during a duet of Cyndi Lauper's 1980s hit Girls Just Want to Have Fun and more recently sang Hero, by Mariah Carey. Her next appearance is expected Wednesday night.

What once was nothing more than a singing show with mediocre ratings has become a TV phenomenon in Italy, with no shortage of potential story lines: Will Sister Cristina survive until the final round in early June? Will she convert her singing coach - the Italian rapper J-Ax - to Catholicism? And why has her appearance stirred such a huge reaction in Italy and beyond?

"My dream was to be a singer," Sister Cristina told ANSA, the state news agency, in her only interview. "The Lord has made use of my wish to call me to him, and is taking me to realize my dream in a way that I could have never imagined." To some observers, the success of Sister Cristina is another byproduct of the new tone established during the first year of the papacy of Pope Francis. If it once might have seemed inappropriate for a nun to even appear on the show - an issue still stirring discussion on different Catholic websites - now the outpouring of public support is seen as more proof of the so-called Francis effect.

The New York Times