By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 25, 2006
When teen starlet Hilary Duff's reported description of Waldorf as "ghetto" surfaced last week, her comments quickly became chatter for Southern Maryland's impressionable teenagers, gossipy parents and elected officials.
In an interview with the fashion magazine Elle, the 19-year-old pop star said her boyfriend, Charles County native Joel Madden and the lead singer of the pop-punk band Good Charlotte, was from "a pretty ghetto place in Maryland." Duff's comments from the magazine's July issue were leaked on the Internet, on the radio and in newspapers.
Residents and visitors in Waldorf have lashed out at Duff, criticizing her for deriding a place she reportedly has not seen.
"I wouldn't want to go around labeling cities if I were in her shoes. I don't know where she gets the audacity to say things like that," 22-year-old Hasad Newsome said, echoing the comments of more than a dozen fellow shoppers Friday at St. Charles Towne Center.
Duff issued a statement last week through a publicist claiming she "never said any of those negative words" in the Elle article. She fired that publicist late last week, and her new publicist, Samantha Mast, said Duff's comments to Elle were taken out of context.
When Duff used the words "pretty ghetto," Mast said, Duff was referring to an apartment in downtown Baltimore where Duff said Madden once lived.
"She never said that Waldorf was ghetto," Mast said.
Still, the comment has stung residents of Charles County's commercial hub. County Commissioner Al Smith (R), whose district includes part of Waldorf, took offense at Duff's comments.
"It's unfortunately very unprofessional, and I think very irresponsible for her to judge our community of Waldorf," Smith said. "She's got a bright future ahead of her, but she might want to be careful about the things that she says without having full knowledge of the impact and repercussions."
Smith, known in the county for his flamboyantly patriotic ways, offered to show Duff a "great American day" in Charles County. He pledged to take her bass fishing and drive her through the rural parts of the county.
"I think I'd love to offer her the opportunity for a personal tour escorted by Commissioner Al Smith, and I'll show her the charm and beauty in places she's never seen," Smith said.
Visitors have joked about Waldorf for years. The Route 301 corridor that runs through Waldorf once was a strip of gaudy slot-machine casinos and nightclubs. Since then, Waldorf has been trying to recast itself as a family-friendly community of suburban residences and attractive retail businesses.
Madden, 27, grew up in Charles County and graduated from La Plata High School. Along with his twin brother, Benji, and three hometown friends, Madden formed Good Charlotte in 1995. The band has achieved success, releasing hits such as "Anthem," "Boys and Girls," and "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous."
As a teenager, Madden had a difficult family life. According to biographies online, Madden's father left the family on Christmas Eve when the twin boys were 16 years old, leaving their mother struggling to make ends meet. The family's pastor, John Warren of Waldorf's Calvary Gospel Church, said the Madden boys grew up "pretty tough."
"But he comes from an excellent family, a beautiful mother, a whole generation of people that have been involved in church all their lives," Warren said of Madden.
For the past two years, Madden has been dating Duff, the pop princess who soared to stardom after she played the title character in the Disney television series "Lizzie McGuire." The Houston-born star also has a recording career, and her 2003 debut album, "Metamorphosis," sold more than 2 million copies on the strength of her No. 1 single "So Yesterday."
Duff also acts in movies and has a leading role in "Material Girls," but her acting abilities have been fodder for radio hosts and bloggers in recent weeks after a New York Times movie critic called her "talent-challenged."
Madden told the Maryland Independent last week that he plans to bring Duff to Charles County for the first time next weekend for Independence Day festivities. He said he hopes to take Duff to Captain Billy's Crab House in Popes Creek to eat steamed blue crabs.
The rock singer told People magazine that he's excited for Duff to visit his childhood jaunts.
"I really want her to see where I grew up, because [it's] sort of a humble place," he told the celebrity tabloid. "It's not Hollywood at all. I want her to see that different life and take her to the jobs I used to have -- unloading trucks, making pizzas and waiting tables."
But Madden and Duff may not be so welcome in Waldorf.
Sherry Escolopio's son Aaron was the original drummer in Good Charlotte, performing on the band's first album before leaving to join a different band. She said she blames Madden for Duff's comments and believes Madden casts Waldorf in a negative light to Duff and his other celebrity friends.
"It's kind of upsetting that he would consider the place he called home 'ghetto,' " Escolopio said. "I think they ought to put up a big sign that says: 'Welcome to Waldorf. Go home, Joel.' "
On Friday, at the mall where the Madden brothers once said they spent thousands of hours, Marci Savoy, 18, and her friend Krystle Cunningham, 17, criticized Duff.
"Oh, she should get beat up for that," Savoy said.
Cunningham chimed in: "You don't see nobody shooting up nobody here. We're just chillin'."
Warren, the pastor, tried to rationalize Duff's comment.
"I'm sure she made it in ignorance," he said. "She's apparently never been here. . . . Of course, there's no ghettos here in Charles County."
Then Warren put the seriousness aside: "At least she used the word 'pretty.' "