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World Shocked at Susan Boyle's Ability to Sing Despite Her Being Less Than Attractive

Susan_Boyle Susan Boyle, the latest darling of "Britain's Got Talent", wowed audiences worldwide when she shared her rare singing ability on Saturday, April 11th, and it made me distinctly uncomfortable.

When the frumpy, 47-year-old woman with thick eyebrows, bad hair, and cankles took the stage, both the judges' and the audience's reactions to her were nothing short of nasty.  When she stated her age, Simon Cowell, also of American Idol fame, rolled his eyes, as though her being a 47-year-old woman rendered the idea that she could have any worthwhile talent to offer ridiculous.  When she said that she wanted to be a professional singer, she was not only openly laughed at, but shots of the audience also showed people shaking their heads, covering their mouths in amusement, and also rolling their eyes.  The obvious assumption was that this middle-aged woman whose performance of femininity was so sorely lacking could not possibly possess any of the talent she would require to aspire to the heights of Elaine Paige, the first lady of British musical theatre.

Susan Boyle, unfazed by the open public disapproval, proceded to sing everyone into a state of breathless, teary awe when she sang "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Miserables (sound warning).

There are no embeddable versions of the episode, so please click here to watch Susan Boyle's gorgeous version of Les Miserables "I Dreamed a Dream".  You will not be disappointed.

Susan_Boyle_2

As soon as she opened her mouth and let out those first notes, the audience was shocked into applause, as though Susan Boyle had performed some measure of magic or a small miracle, because, you see, she is not very attractive, and she is a bit long in the tooth, and her sassy pelvic thrusts were awkwardly executed.  The obvious expectations of her based on her age and looks alone made me feel sad.  I like to imagine that we have moved some distance from the antiquated stance that physical beauty is equal to the innate goodness of a person in morality, spirituality, and ability, but the world's reaction to Susan Boyle defeats my imagination's power to transform reality.

Would we feel as blown away by Susan Boyle's talent if she were in her twenties or thirties?  If she were conventionally pretty?  If her performance of our culture's prescribed femininity were less awkward?  I don't think we would be.

Don't get me wrong. Her performance of "I Dreamed a Dream" was incredible, and I think that she would still have been voted to move ahead in the competition even if she did not have her lack of attractiveness to shock the audience, but I don't think that the reason this video of Susan Boyle has gone viral is because she is a good singer.  She is being noticed because she has displayed an amazing level of talent despite being an ugly, aging woman.

All this attention she is receiving should seem uplifting and positive, but instead it feels ugly and superficial.  The more popular kids are patting her on the back, telling her that she's cool, and letting her hang out with them for a week, not because they actually like her, but because they are shocked that she would be capable of impressing them.  The popular kids feel like they're better people for bothering to acknowledge her, but she is still considered a loser, and when the week is up, life might go back to what it was before, only with the cooler kids feeling even cooler.

And I worry that this is what a large portion of Susan Boyle's audience is doing.  Our culturally ingrained prejudice against unfeminine females aging out of social importance makes those of us who are not unfeminine or not female or not older feel better than Susan, and so it feels good to congratulate her on what she can bring to the table.  Good girl, Susan! Aren't you a smart puppy!

I like Susan Boyle because she dreams big, because she is confident despite superficialities put forward as cultural imperatives that exclude her, because she has more singing talent in one eye tooth than I have in my entire body, and because she threw sassy pelvic gyrations at Simon Cowell in front of millions of people. I want more of Susan Boyle because she is good at what she does.  I like that when she performs, I will not be confused about which blonde or brunette 15-to-20-something is having her voice pitched through an Autotune.

I truly hope, though, that I am being the worst type of cynic.  I want to be wrong.  I want to have insulted millions of people worldwide rather than be correct about their motivations, because Susan Boyle does have talent, and I want her to find the success she deserves and not what might be five minutes of congratulations so that we can feed our own shaky egos.







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Comments

LauraJT77

Schmutzie,
That made me cry. You are so right and that makes me very sad.

Bead Lady

Well written. I agree completely. I would hate for her to only have 15 minutes of fame. I thought it was distasteful of one of the judges of 'Britain's Got Talent' state that they wouldn't be giving her a makeover just yet. It's all pretty crass if you ask me.

Natalie

I didn't cry when I watched her because it was the cool thing to do or because I was "patting her on the back" I cried because I felt, at the same time, proud of what she just accomplished (knocking everyone on their butts) and because I felt connected to her. I think many people who watch this feel like they can relate to Susan in some aspect of their life. People love an underdog story and she was an underdog.

We all feel allinated at some point, we all feel not special or not good enough and we all hope that when given the chance we can hold our heads high and show what we are really made of. It is easy to relate to her because she isn't one of these kids on american idol who have the right hair and the right clothes and passable talent. She is one of us and we are all beautiful in our own unique way and I think that is why she has had so many viewers and fans because she sent out a messge to us about something we had forgotten

AmyH

I think her story is going viral because she was able to overcome all of the odds against her and share her gift. Simon is a superficial guy to the extreme, but couldn't part of his eye-rolling have been because he figured if she had any great talent that she would have already been discovered by now? I can't say for sure.

All I know is that when I saw her video and heard her sing, I was rooting for her because of how amazingly confident she was having never performed on such a huge stage and I was happy that she nailed it.

Marie

Yes, yes, yes. The set-up was nasty and the denouement was patronizing. The more I think about it, the angrier I get. This woman has an amazing talent and we are supposed to be amazed that she dared to get on stage? I am pissed off on behalf of all 40-something women.

Doug French

Susan Boyle is William Hung, only with prodigious talent. If she doesn't garner 10 times the career Hung has built, our culture needs to be taken out to the woodshed.

BaltimoreGal

I haven't even been able to watch it because of this. I have NO DOUBT it's amazing, but they did the same thing last year with a guy who sang opera. I hate being set up like this and I can't disagree with anything Schmutzie is saying.

kyran

I was very moved by the transformation of the audience and judges. It made me feel like there might be hope for us all yet. I may not recoil at bushy eyebrows or roll my eyes at frump, but I can relate to both sides of a mind made up in advance.

Beyond the obvious hype and patronage, I think the whole little fable has struck a very deep chord in the culture. No one, blessed by nature or not, is unscarred by our culture's obsession with youthful attractiveness. Mainly, I'm just so happy the event gets everybody talking and thinking about our perceptions and attitudes.

Great post.

blackeyedgurl

You know what, I'm not angry or mad or anything about the world's reaction to her. You know why? Cos she had the balls and brass to walk out on that stage and basically say go ahead and laugh, I'm here to be judged for my talent, not my looks. And you know what? Talent indeed. Go Susan! Kick their asses! I am proud of her that she went out there regardless of her looks, her age, her employment status, regardless of everything that society would deem unworthy about her and she bared her soul. Kick Ass!

That was beautiful, and honestly if that is the only time she ever gets to air that amazing voice on a stage or the television to millions of people, I think it will be enough for her. She wanted to be heard, and she was, dear lord she was.

Really I could see her having a wonderful stage singing career, or even a hell of a career singing songs for Disney movies and such where no one will ever try to judge her for her beauty. I am not saying this because I think she needs to be covered up, I say it because I am scared for her that once the machine gets its hands on her she will be plucked, and primped and thinned out to an inch of her life and somehow it will make her talent less impressive, and will make me feel sadder that the only way someone thought we could appreciate it was by stuffing her into a preconcieved notion of what a star looks like.

I don't know when we started confusing Talent with Celebrity. They are 2 fundamentally different things these days. She needs to take her talent and run with it and not give a shite about celebrity.

Wow, can you imagine her voice covering old standards like Someone to Watch Over Me? I get chills just thinking about it!

Granted everyone called Kelly Clarkson fat, and she's the only really successful American Idol. So I guess being fat didn't matter as much as her talent.

Rhonda

Well, I agree with what you are saying. However, I think it's human nature to 'judge a book by its cover'. Not a nice part of our nature but it's there nonetheless. Even research with babies show they are more inclined to gaze at the beautiful person. I think this has been so powerful to people because it forces one to question that very nature and that is a very good thing.

LovelyLayla

Wow. This was an amazing post, because when I watched the video for the second time I was astonished at how one of the girls in the audience reacted to Susan coming out on stage. They showed her turning to her friend next to her, and making this terrible face and laughing. And I cringed. But I do agree, I applaud her for ignoring all the doubters and pouring her heart out into that song.
The only thing I worry about now...
1) Magazines/ TV shows offering to completely makeover Susan
2) Fame/Money hungry bastards wanting to be Susan's "first kiss". She looks like she has a good head on her shoulders though. I really hope she goes far, because she's an amazing role model for many ages.

deirdre

When Susan Boyle opened her mouth and began to sing, the juxtaposition of her dowdiness against the soaring beauty of her voice created an emotion that I've never felt in my lifetime. And that's something to celebrate.

Had she been attrative from the getgo, I don't think we would have experienced what was an amazing communal experience of humbling awe.

I'm so glad I got to experience what I did when I heard her sing. I could give two shits about the way she looks (I hope they don't ruin her wild hair, though -- those curls are superb), I just want her to sing some more.

ms martyr

Well, as a person with a decade on Ms. Boyles, my surprise is that this talent hasn't been discovered before now. Generally you try to exploit (not the right word, but I have sinus this morning) your strengths during your youth and not wait until middle age. Also, Kate Smith was not a very attractive woman but was loved by America. I don't think the average person is really that prejudiced by appearance, or at least I hope not. Those judges are paid to be snarky.

jodifur

I feel bad for her. Every article I read about her comments on her looks. Would you like to read that about you all the time? (I'm not talking about this post) It just seems mean.

ravenlynne

I love her because despite the audience and judges' reactions, she just stood there calmly and sang her ass off. She KNEW they were going to judge her by her looks and then eat crow and I know she enjoyed it. Good for her and shame on them for being Judgy McJudgersons.

Snarky Amber

I was moved by Susan's performance, but I'm really interested in what is causing the phenomenon because (and this could get me in trouble), while her voice is good, she's really not that exceptional, except for the perceived incongruity of her voice and her physical appearance.

Don't get me wrong. I think Susan Boyle is a good singer. But it's not her voice alone that has made her a sensation. In fact, if you close your eyes and listen to her version of that song and the versions of either Patti LuPone or Ruthie Henshall, I think you'd pick out Susan's as the worst of the three. And that's to be expected; Ruthie and Patti are classically trained musical theater stars. But the fact is, people are making comparisons of Susan with the likes of Julie Andrews, when surely Julie would not struggle for the low notes as Susan does (even I, also an amateur singer, can hit them without struggle). It's as though looks figure into some sort of golf handicap for singing.

So it kinda pisses me off that not only are people shocked that a woman who looks like Susan Boyle sings as well as she does, but that some are acclaiming her as exceptional when I think, if she came in the expected package for a good singer, most of us would be talking more about her struggles in the low register of the song, or the fact that at times she's a bit shouty in the higher range. (it's true, she is). Good voices come in many different packages, but they should be judged solely on their aural qualities, nothing more.
I'm a cynic, too, Schmutzie. I've seen far too many talented women (Jennifer Holliday, Carnie Wilson, Fantasia Burino) fall quickly out of the limelight because they don't fit into conventional ideas of beauty.

palinode

I'm waiting for the grand reveal that it's Paris Hilton in heavy makeup and a wig.

LovelyLayla

I think it's kinda cool that she is just being discovered now. Maybe she just worked and lived her life to what she wanted it to be, and then decided that she wanted more, even if it turns out to be 15 minutes of fame.
Even if her career goes nowhere, I can't fathom how it would feel to just be walking in the grocery, or just on the street, and have someone come up to you and be like " I went after all of my dreams because of you." It's people like her who I feel put all of the Angelina's and Oprah's to shame. It may have been miniscule, but her performance I think will leave a mark.

Mildly Unstable

Snarky Amber summed up my thoughts rather well.

iamthediva

i think you captured what many of us were feeling as we watched...

for me it was a sense of: "YEAH! YOU SHOW THOSE MORONS!" and i was unbelievably proud of her and impressed by her vocal ability (Having been trained as an opera singer, i hope that holds some weight)

But then when the three judged proceeded to TELL HER that before she started singing they had already made up their minds, i started feeling uneasy, and you can even see it in her face when they tell her that... the moment of hurt.

I hope she continues to perform because it's clear that she has a passion for it, and is very talented.

Simon Cowell can go sit on a sprinkler.

rednexmama

I can't help but think that in the same respect that the pretty girls get points for being "cute as a button" or the great dancers get points for "killer moves" why should we be allowed to take points away from Susan for using her looks to her advantage? Granted it might not be in a way that we would expect, but really, how is this any different than what any performer would do? And really, these shows aren't so much "singing" contests as "performance" ones anyways... If the way she looks adds to the emotion of her performance, well good for her for taking advantage.

El Jimmy

I like your post, but just wanted to add that "exceptional" is in the eye (or ear) of the beholder, and how that is quantified or measured is different for everybody. Maybe people are overzealous and incorrect in comparing her to professionally trained singers, but Susan does offer something unique and intangible to her interpretation that nobody else can offer (I can't pinpoint it either), and I think that is what people are trying to articulate when they erroneously compare her.

Sweetney

Holy fuck Schmutzie. This:

"All this attention she is receiving should seem uplifting and positive, but instead it feels ugly and superficial. The more popular kids are patting her on the back, telling her that she's cool, and letting her hang out with them for a week, not because they actually like her, but because they are shocked that she would be capable of impressing them. The popular kids feel like they're better people for bothering to acknowledge her, but she is still considered a loser, and when the week is up, life might go back to what it was before, only with the cooler kids feeling even cooler."

I'm with you. God I fucking know that feeling, jesus. You just nailed this. NAILED IT.

flutter

you are absolutely right.

Loralee

My opinion as a vocalist with lots of experience is that her performance would have been judged MUCH more harshly if she was pretty or younger.

Not that she sucked or doesn't have talent, she REALLY does but honestly...I could pick apart that performance totally.

You've vocalized EXACTLY what I was thinking.

And if her talent had been inferior? We would have heard nothing about her "inner beauty". She would be viral blog fodder for laughs.

It's all quite sad.
xo

Sweetney

PS: I dugg, kirtsied, stumbled, and reddited this. It deserves play. Well done.

BHJ

Loved your insightful post but your damn husband gave me a bad case of the sinister giggles.

palinode

That's how it works in our household. She supplies the insight and I pervert it utterly.

Lisa @ Work at Home Mom Revolution

Glad somebody said it. Thank you.

annie

I was a bit pissed at Simon for the eye roll at her stating her age. Mid-forties is hardly ancient or irrelevant. I mean, he is "middle-aged" himself, right?

If she had been pretty, they would not have reacted to her voice the way they did and they should all be ashamed for their pre-judging of her. Simon especially because if he didn't regularly promote the exploitation of those without her talent, everyone would have expected her to be able to sing.

Julienne

I completely agree! I love Susan Boyle for the same reasons you do and enjoy watching the clip because I am entranced by her voice. I hate that people have taken the wrong message from the video and are surprised that an older woman can sing so well - ugh! To me, the point was that the very concept of pre-judging someone's ability based on their appearance is absurd.

savia

I think the audience's initial reaction says a lot about our celebrity/youth-obsessed culture and the way that our media has brainwashed us to react to someone who dares get up on a stage to express herself when she isn't modelesque.

While I don't agree with the audience's reaction (before she started singing), I don't blame them for it. Many of them are young and have spent their whole lives in this supersaturated media culture.

Maybe it's the eternal optimist in me, but I think the overwhelming response to her is that it turns that advertiser-driven notion of physical perfection + marketing = success onto its head.

Perhaps this could be the wedge that begins to move our society away from physical obsession to recognition of talent and accomplishment for their own sakes?

At least, that's what I'd like to believe, because the alternative is so very depressing.

Diane

Part of it, I think, is what we have come to expect from shows like this. The only "unpretty" people they ever show are B-A-D. It was so incredibly like Clay Aiken's initial audition. They don't show us the less than perfects who sing pretty well but just not well enough. When someone "unattractive" comes on, we are conditioned to assume they will be awful. This makes me sad for so very many reasons. Great post.

Sweetney

DAMMIT, PALINODE!

Mary

Growing old is a shock. One moment you are young and attractive and on top of the world and in the blink of an eye you are experiencing menopause and becoming invisible to the rest of the world. Our society has bought into the line of crap that talent and beauty to be aesthetically pleasing has to come from someone with a youthful appeal. Is this why American Idle has the age limit? Do they think America would not be as accepting to a wider range of talent just because we need our Idols young and beautiful. You said it much more eloquently than I. The cool kids you speak of, like Simone....yuck. Thank God they grow old too...someday.

Tee

*Standing ovation*

Thank you for saying what has been on my mind. Susan Boyle is an inspiration and I love her already but the society that laughs at her before she proves herself simply for lacking in the beauty department - them I could do without.

Susan Boyle, you are a shining star.
Society, I truly hate you sometimes, from the bottom of my own middle aged only averagely attractive heart.

The Blog Fodder

I hope she does get a make-over and some coaching. We may be shocked to find she isn't all that bad looking, just never had a chance. A great many "plain" women "from the village" are not nearly as plain as their environment has made them. Sorry, I can't speak about men because I never look at them.
And she does sing very well. She will get better with coaching and will have far more than "15 minutes of fame".

Katie Kat

Perfectly said! I was disgusted with Simon and crew for their reactions when she walked on stage, but then I had to ask myself if I wouldn't have been thinking the same thing if I didn't know in advance she was going to let fly with that voice. It made ME uncomfortable for my own reaction. I think her success would have been the same regardless of her attractiveness or age, but she wouldn't have had to endure everyone's insensitivity.

Of course, she's had to deal with that her whole life, and that's why I found myself rooting for her because she was spunky and confident and in their faces despite how everyone reacted to her. She deserves to be respected for who she is, and maybe she will get the last laugh and make people stop and think before they judge next time.

doahleigh

Thank you, I was hoping someone would write something about this. Nobody seemed to get this angle of the story. I would have written something myself, but you said it so much better.

Amanda

Thank GOD someone is writing about this.

It was an amazing performance by an incredibly talented vocalist. The fact that we expected her to suck because she's not pretty is not something to celebrate.

Thanks for saying this!

Spoon

Here's an optimistic spin. Susan doesn't need their approval. She's got it, because she deserves it, but it's not as though she's going to wither and die when the attention goes away. Those pretty young things rolling their eyes -- they need it, badly. They need it so badly that they'll s--t on absolutely anyone who isn't actively worshiping them by imitation.

You're absolutely right that the existence of Susan Boyle isn't going to change those people for the better, won't convince them to stop looking down on everyone who isn't trying to be just like them. What's more, who cares? Let them live their desperate, unhappy lives and roll their eyes at whoever they want. They're lucky Madame Boyle deigned to show up at their self-masturbatory circus.

kaelak

"All this attention she is receiving should seem uplifting and positive, but instead it feels ugly and superficial." I couldn't agree more. And I kept getting pissed every time the not-Simon dude opened his mouth, 'cause he kept talking about how surprised they all were. Like only beautiful people can have talent? Disgusting, and a clear show of HIS inner beauty (or not).

Renee

I just think that the reasons you like Susan are the same reasons everyone else does, and I think the "popular kids" analogy is a huge stretch.

We like her because she's Going For It. The only people making a big deal out of her looks are the media, and I think we all know They Don't Speak For Us.

TasterSpoon

You nailed it. This video made me very uncomfortable.

I was startled by the nastiness in the beginning and not much reassured when they (Cowell and the audience) admitted to her talent by the end.

I thought everyone's reaction was was less a genuine sizing up of talent (there have been better and worse singers) and more like they were dazzled by the novelty that she could sing at all - ooh, a talking dog - what an amazing trick!

Pissed me off and I feel bad for her that this video has gone so big. Now she gets to SEE how people react to her when they first meet her. How humiliating.




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