“To dream anything that you want to dream, that is the beauty of the human mind.
To do anything that you want to do, that is the strength of the human will.
To trust yourself, to test your limits, that is the courage to succeed.” ~ Bernard Edmond
Skywriter wrote in to remind me that it was a year ago yesterday that Susan Boyle auditioned for Britain’s Got Talent. The Broadcast of that audition to the public aired on April 11, 2009. On April 16, I wrote a post about Susan Boyle (April 16, 2009 Post on Susan Boyle ).
I went back and looked at that original audition tape, and it still made me tear up; the timbre of her voice when she sang I” Dreamed a Dream” from Les Misérables was so rich and pure. Then I listened to her performance on Oprah, and I noticed a difference: It was still the same voice, a bit more refined, not as powerful, which is probably due to the song itself. But I have to wonder what the world has done to Boyle.
I remember the reports after she did not win Britain’s Got Talent. Boyle checked into a psychiatric facility for exhaustion. The media played up the incident, claiming that fame had gone to the singer’s head, that she couldn’t handle the price of fame, ya da ya da ya da . . . It was almost as if Boyle was being paid back for soaring too high too fast. I remember that the reports seemed too eager to point out her problems, to say that she wouldn’t be able to fulfill her obligation to tour with BGT.
Then a week ago, there was some report about Boyle causing an incident at Heathrow Airport when she began singing with a mop, and wiped a fellow passenger’s shoes with the mop. Depending upon who you listen to, Boyle was acceding to requests from fellow passengers to sing a song; people were singing with her; the passenger with the shoes was being a spoil-sport. Again, ya da ya da ya da.
“You don’t love a girl because of beauty. You love her because she sings a song only you can understand.” ~ L. J. Smith
Let me rewind a bit. When Susan Boyle first stepped on the stage, she received a questionable welcome from the audience and judges. Much was written about appearances being deceiving. In the weeks and months that followed, Boyle had a makeover, new hair color, plucked brows, new clothes, a bit of makeup. Everyone seemed to be a bit more comfortable with the new-improved version of Boyle.
But what about Boyle herself? She literally rocketed to fame. When her vid from BGT was uploaded, it received 2.5 million views in 72 hours. Requests for Boyle began to filter in. The woman herself worked non-stop throughout the duration of the show. Everyone wanted a piece of Boyle. That she fell prey to exhaustion when the show ended is not too surprising. Before her audition, Boyle had spent almost all of her time caring for her ailing mother. The Scottish woman sang at church, not in front of thousands.
But fame is fickle, and it seemed that the press wanted to make more of the downside to Susan at any available opportunity. Hence the reports of her temper tantrums, escapades, whatever. I mean, the poor woman cannot even leave her house to go shopping without getting her picture taken and people commenting on whether she is wearing makeup. Even Boyle felt a need to comment: “When it all first happened I just thought ‘Oooh, my God’. I didn’t know what to think, It was all so sudden. It felt like a giant demolition ball in a way. The impact of it was so hard. It still is very strange to me. But now I have learned how to deal with it all. You have to put on a front. You have an audience to please and so you get on with it. You have to.”
“For now I’m happy the way I am—short and plump. I would not go in for Botox or anything like that. I’m content with the way I look. What’s wrong with looking like Susan Boyle? What’s the matter with that?” ~ Susan Boyle
Why am I going on about this? Well, it goes back to that dead horse that I beat frequently, you know the one about judging women based on their physical attributes. Boyle, 48, is single, lives with her cat, claimed never to have been kissed, although admitted that she was having a bit of a go at the judges. Rolling of the eyes at this preposterous woman. If Boyle had opened her mouth and sounded like Pee Wee Herman, the audience would have had a tremendous laugh at her expense, and she would have been ushered off the stage.
Instead, the woman who looked like nothing special turned out to be more than extraordinary. And none of us were expecting that. Did we embrace Boyle harder because she did not fit our stereotypes of hardbodied female vocalists à la Madonna? Perhaps. Did we love her more because she was like us, that is, not rich, not famous, not pampered, not full of a sense of entitlement? Probably. Was it her voice or her demeanor that made us want to stand up and cheer and say “Take that, Simon”? A bit of both.
Which is why I now find myself facing a quandary: If I am to be truthful, do I like Boyle less now that she has become more like them? Was she more likable when we focused on the fact that she was the victim of bullying while in school, that her peers taunted her and called her slow? “I didn’t mix with other kids much. I was frightened of people because of their reactions toward me . . . It’s complicated,” Boyle recounted in an interview with Harper’s Bazaar last year. Did we empathize more when her tales of singing in front of a mirror with a hairbrush dovetailed with things we had done ourselves?
“But aren’t many gardens beautiful because they are imperfect? . . . Aren’t the strange, new flowers that arise by mistake or misadventure as pleasing as the well-tended and planned?” ~ Libba Bray
Personally, when I listen to the original audition video, I close my eyes. Not because I can’t stand to look at Boyle, but because I always close my eyes (except when I’m driving) when I am listening to beautiful music: I close my eyes to tune out external stimuli so that I can listen as fully as possible.
I have to admit that when I looked at the video from Oprah, I did not close my eyes. I kept getting distracted. I was wondering about her earrings, her dress, her hair, whether she was wearing too much makeup. I have to wonder if this is a female thing or an American thing or a societal thing . . . by that I mean, my compulsion to look at Boyle now that she has become somebody. Did I like her better when she was frumpy? Is it that rooting for the underdog thing?
Susan Boyle may look more acceptable to the industry now that she has had her redo. But the reality is that she will always be that woman from Scotland who said that she wanted to be famous like Elaine Paige of Cats, Evita, and Hair fame. And how cool that on December 13, 2009, Boyle realized her dream by singing a duet with Paige in an ITV special called “The Susan Boyle Story.” Said Boyle of the surprise duet, “I never thought I would see myself standing on the same stage with such an icon from West End theatre, let alone singing with her as an equal.”
So I listened again to the performance on Oprah, and this time, I closed my eyes. There it was. A bit quieter, but the same beautiful timbre, the same rich voice—goosebumps.
Susan Boyle singing “Who I Was Meant To Be.” Sit back. Close your eyes, and enjoy.
More later. Peace.