Why is Susan Boyle an international phenomenon? The matronly Scotswoman has taken the globe by storm after her first audition on iTV’s “Britan’s Got Talent”. Since her April 11, 2009 audition, millions around the world have logged on to YouTube to listen to a simply mind blowing performance. The woman, who could easily be any one’s mother, stepped onto the stage as nothing remarkable to look at. Both judges and audience alike expected one of the many bad acts you get in these type of reality shows. It’s the standard gimmick. You mix in simply awful performances with strong ones to give a little drama to the show and allow the audience at home to poke a little malicious glee at those who flop.
Boyle had all the markings of just such an act. Fat, frizzy hair, round face, and nervous attitude on stage. The judges and audience laughed when she told them her dream was to become a professional singer. Of course nobody would give her a chance. We all know professional singers don’t look like that. What cheek! How dare she think of herself as the next Elaine Page? Adding to the joke was her choice of song, “I Dream a Dream” from the legendary musical Les Miserable. A dream indeed.
The cynicism lasted for all of four notes. It took four notes for the dumpy little Scot to bring the auditorium to a standing ovation. A standing ovation in the middle of the performance. Turns out the woman who isn’t much to look at is sure something to listen to. In minutes she turned an auditorium in Wales full of cynics into apologists and instant fans. The lady can sing.
She was so obviously nervous that she finished her performance and then started to walk off stage. In that moment, I fell in love. She honestly didn’t see or hear what the rest of us had. She didn’t understand just how remarkable she was. It’s an affliction that many deeply talented individuals have. They just don’t understand how good they are. I’m sure in her life more than one person has listened to her amazing voice and then told her that she sang well, but wasn’t getting anywhere unless she dropped 50 pounds, got her hair done, and fixed her teeth.
The look of absolute shock and joy as the judges commented on her performance was priceless. It’s always a joy to see true, unscripted and unaffected happiness on any of these shows. Susan was thrilled and we were thrilled for her.
A few days ago Susan battled things out in the finals. The beauty of it was she really hadn’t changed in the last month or so. Her hair had been colored, and her dress was a bit better suited for her. Yet the core of Susan is still intact. Big voice, thick Scottish accent, and the joy of watching her dream slowly come true. When she finished as runner up to dance group Diversity, she smiled, congratulated them, and showed true character on stage.
Now cynics are all ready calling Susan’s story nothing remarkable. They point out that just because one flash in the pan talent makes it through doesn’t mean that the entertainment industry is going change. People will still judge based on appearance. Society has done that from the beginning of time. I’m sure in Cro-Magnon days Gugh would be putting down Ergh because Ergh didn’t drape his bear skin just so. That’s not what Susan Boyle is about. She’s not about changing the way the entertainment industry operates. She isn’t about the power of chasing a dream, though that is a compelling part of her story.
What Susan does is touch the part of every one of us seeking recognition for the person we are. Not a one of us hasn’t railed against the universe because people don’t see the true person we are. The self improvement industry rakes in billions world wide as people quest to improve the person they are. Deep down though we all wish that wasn’t the case. The moment of deepest connection for anyone comes at that point in time where people accept you as is, without any artifice.
Susan Boyle forced us to face down preconceptions regarding appearance and talent. She did it on her terms. We either recognize her for her skills or say appearance matters to the exclusion of talent and skill. You either accept Susan as is, or dismiss her. That’s why Susan Boyle matters.