Exceeding Expectations

Four of my friends are now fans of Susan Boyle, my Facebook home page informed me this morning. I thought this was… I don’t know, strange, I guess.

Susan Boyle, of course, is today’s internet it-girl du jour. Her appearance on “Britain’s Got Talent,” along with other recorded performances have been viewed approximately a gazillion times (well, actually 85.2 million), according to yesterday’s Washington Post. What did she do to gain all this notoriety? She auditioned for a talent show and sang a song on television.

It doesn’t seem like much; in fact, it is  something that happens practically every night on our talent competition-laden airwaves. But here’s the thing with Susan Boyle: the fact that she’s now a web sensation has nothing to do with her talent, though she does have a very nice voice. She’s a phenomenon simply for exceeding expectations.

This is because to call her a girl — “it” or otherwise — is disingenuous. She’s a woman in her late 40s, and if  the video is to be believed,  a rather short and plain and stocky one. From the moment she walks onstage, it’s plain to see that the audience and judges dismiss her immediately and see her assertion of emulating Elaine Page to be tragic bravado. And then she sings — a lovely version of “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miz. It’s neither the best nor the worst I’ve heard, but from the reaction, both from those seeing it live and in the wider world, you’d think that a choir of angels flew out of her mouth.

Why?

Well, because Susan Boyle was clearly intended to be a joke. I mean, everyone knows that to be a good singer, you need to be pretty. And thin. And young. Duh.

Instead, everyone is struck dumb by a middle aged lady who can sing — and she’s instantly the next big thing, with news crews invading the quiet village where she lives. It’s more than a little crazy and over-the-top. I mean, I know people who are amazing, and I mean amazing singers, most of whom look just like regular folks until they open their mouths. Are we really so jaded by the plethora of pop tarts served up to us on “American Idol” and the like that we can no longer conceive of musical talent separate from physical beauty? It sure seems that way.

Of course, we might not have to — there is already an article in the Washington Post proposing a makeover.

Sigh.

2 thoughts on “Exceeding Expectations

  1. Susan April 21, 2009 / 4:30 pm

    That’s what I love…that the ugly part of humanity (that judges harshly upon first impressions)was slapped back into place. I feel like there have been times I was her…and didn’t get to “show them all”. I smile each time I watch it at everyone’s shock. I’m not cynical at all about it. When I close my eyes and listen (without the distraction of the judges or my own evaluation if I’m judging her looks) I LOVE how she sounds. I hate the part of society that says if you’re not 20, a size 2, and gorgeous, you’re worthless. She shows how much people miss by judging by that scale…

  2. Mom April 21, 2009 / 6:46 pm

    Poor Susan Boyle — I hope she has the COURAGE to NOT let them make her over. It is part of what is wrong with our American culture and you have to be who/what you are not INSIDE to get ahead. Amen, Sarah & Susan — you’ve summed it all up beautifully and correctly. Sweetpea, do you remember Jen’s GRANDMOTHER singing at their wedding? That’s another example of a voice hidden in a white-haired little old lady that was unbelievably beautiful. They probably would not have let her audition for AI!!

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