The Spectacle of a Nun Singing on The Voice

A 25-year-old sister went on the Italian version of the show to evangelize, but were the producers just looking for a schtick?

The music starts, and she's clapping, tapping feet tucked into plain black sneakers, and swaying from side to side as the cross around her neck swings. Then she's singing—belting, really—Alicia Keys's "No One," and the audience is on its feet, going crazy. The camera pans to the side of the stage, where three habit-clad sisters are jumping up and down and screaming as the judges show their approval.

This is what happened when Cristina Scuccia, a 25-year-old nun, went on Italy's version of The Voice this week, hoping to share her vocation with the world. "I came here because I have a gift and I want to share that gift," she told the judges after her performance. "I am here to evangelize."

"You and me are like the devil and holy water," a tattooed judge who goes by the name "J-Ax" later observed.

It's a performance that seems very of-the-moment. Pope Francis has captivated the press and charmed Catholics worldwide. At least on some fronts, the Church has upped its social-media efforts. And this nun seems sweet, young, relatable; besides the habit, she doesn't come across as all that different from the type of person who might be watching The Voice.

But there's also a novelty effect at play here. Especially for people who don't spend a lot of time with nuns, it may be entertaining to think of one knowing all the words to a pop song. It's a joyful thing to see three somewhat-elderly sisters cheer and scream like teen girls at an actual Alicia Keys concert. The judges—who at first sit with their backs to the stage, listening to the anonymous "voice"—eventually turn around, and their shocked reactions are priceless, too.

Then again, that's what reality TV seeks to do: surprise, entertain, and delight. The Voice of Italy put a talented nun on stage to thrill the audience and stomp the competition. It's just that in this case, it's unclear whether the entertainment value is earnest or sarcastic: Is this clip delightful because Sister Scuccia's voice is powerful and her enthusiasm palpable? Or is it enjoyable because it's a spectacle to see a bride of Christ dancing on television?

For most viewers, it's probably a combination of both. Especially in Italy, where an overwhelming majority of people are Catholic, the episode probably has particular appeal; the audience might have felt like they were cheering for the home team at a sporting event. Nuns are authority figures in the country, and it's fun to see the people in charge let their hair down (although not literally, in this case; Sister Scuccia kept her habit in place throughout the performance). It's possible to feel respect and loyalty and deference while still enjoying a bit of light-hearted fun.

If this were an episode of The Voice in America or the U.K. or France, though, the scene might seem a little different: more like mocking and less like the celebration of a young nun who can truly, truly sing.