Happy Mortal

This life, well-lived.

WHAT? WHO’s got talent?

3439777914_687a7dbe2eIf you’ve spent any time on the internet this week, you’ve probably seen clips of, or at least heard of Susan Boyle (If not, watch the clip of her performance here), and her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” on “Britain’s Got Talent.”

The Today Show describes her as “47, unemployed, lives alone with her cat and has never had a date or been kissed.”  Her appearance lines up with this stereotypical description.  So, when she walked out on stage the audience snickered and cringed, and apparently had zero expectations.

When she started singing and people realized she actually had a voice, everyone went nuts.  The judges are described as “gaping in disbelief.” The audience went crazy. The internet has been abuzz with talk of the performance.  She has received more than 20 million clicks on YouTube.

I’m intrigued by people’s reaction to her.  It all seems a tad weird to me.  Don’t get me wrong—she really does have an amazing voice.  It’s nice that people are taking notice of her talent.   She should certainly be recognized for her abilities.  But why are people so touched and surprised? Why so shocked? Because someone who doesn’t look like a model actually has talent?

Doesn’t it seem a little insulting? What does this say about our society?  About the music world? I might be wrong about this, but I imagine if she were younger and better looking the internet wouldn’t be buzzing quite so much.

On the other hand, I’m intrigued by the extent of many people’s reaction.  Why do so many people say they actually cried while watching the clip? Have our expectations of the art/entertainment world become cynical, even resigned? Does the recognition of Boyle’s talent provide some momentary relief from the typical, superficial requirements of our culture?

In any case, I hope Boyle will not just serve to give us a touching underdog story, but as a reminder—however brief—that music is an art form, and that artists come in many shapes.


  1. I was touched, personally, by the fact that people were so obviously being mean and scoffing at her, that when she started belting out that song so beautifully, it was like she was kicking the audience in the teeth! I loved it…but I agree with you. I remarked to a friend of mine that I don’t think you’d ever see someone on American Idol that wasn’t at LEAST “cute”

  2. I think people cried for the very reasons you mention here.
    She awakens cynicism within us and truly, for once, surprises us.

  3. I think the shock of having someone so confident in their self who clearly was not worried about her appearance and had such a PERFECT song picked out floored everyone.

    Yes it was a run on sentence, sue me.

  4. I think for me, the strong reaction came from her choice of song. Its all about lost love and failed dreams. This is a woman who has spent her life caring for her mother, and has never even been kissed. The emotion in the song itself is usually enough to send me over the edge into a bleary eyed mess, but coupled with her story it was really quite beautiful.

  5. While I do agree that it does seem insulting that people do not believe that less than stunningly beautiful have talent. I believe people find it inspiring that she had the courage to be herself. She never lied or pretended to be something she’s not. Even with beauty, wit, and success some continue to decline a chance to sing in front of an audience. She took a risk and decided to perform within an industry infatuated with appearance, and proved to everyone that beautiful music can come from all shapes and sizes.

  6. My wife and I watched it and, yep, were indeed teary-eyed. Why? You ask the right question. Can I imagine that it’s at least in part because we love to see the underdog succeed? I hope so. Because there’s really something to that. But more than that too, because, like everybody… we felt that awkwardness when the judges each mentioned in kind that the audience had been “against” her and so on, and you could almost feel the audience nodding in agreement.

    We weren’t against her, but perhaps only because someone had sent us the clip and we knew they wouldn’t have if we weren’t about to be amazed. Under other circumstances, could it have been otherwise? I don’t know. Maybe I can’t ever know.

    But I’d like to think it’s this: We react to this because we’re ashamed of our predjudices and so relieved to be proved wrong. We react because we’re all secretly doubting we matter and relieved to prove that someone who might feel that way can matter still. We’re moved because we’ve all been secretly as alone as we imagine she has, and feel redeemed that it’s not a permanent affliction. We’re touched because we all aspire to some secret greatness, and are astounded to know it’s indeed possible. We’re moved because we all secretly dream, and here’s a secret dream that’s realized.

    Is that enough? I hope so.

    Good luck to Susan, though she doesn’t seem to need it. And good luck to the rest of us, because it appears we need it still.

  7. I was extremely touched by her performance because it’s really nice to see a good underdog/ugly duckling story. She wasn’t much to look at, she was awkward and wasn’t well-spoken, but when she sang, all that melted away, and she was transformed into a star.
    I wasn’t amazed that an unattractive person could sing well; I was happy to see her have the courage to get up in front of those people and show them how talented she really is. She had a little glimmer in her eye right before she sang that just said, “Wait until you see THIS.”

  8. I am reasonably intelligent and have known that for years. I am confident.

    When I was 50 I got caps on my formerly very crooked front teeth which made them appear uniform and straight. I knew my appearance was important as I was going to be seeking a new career.

    I was not surprised when new acquaintances started treating me with respect. That was why I felt it was important to improve my appearance. First impressions are important.

    What shocked me was the fact that people who had worked with me for over 20 years, and had even acknowledged at times that they thought I was intelligent, also started treating me with more respect.

    Since then I have tried to be very vigilant of my own reaction to the “first glance” reaction to other people. I have come to know many new friends with strong intellectual wit, grace and talent, whom I know, at one time, I would have I would have dismissed at first glance because they are not physically attractive people.

    My advice to everyone is, try not to judge by appearances, and (since people seem to not be able to totally control their judgments); (short of medical procedures) do what you can to improve your appearance.

  9. I completely agree with the writer of this article. I thought the same thing. To be honest, I’ve studied music my whole life. Yes, her voice is great, but it’s not gonna move any mountains. People chalk it up like she’s the most amazing singer because quite frankly, she’s unattractive. Everyone’s mysticism comes in the fact that you can’t believe someone funny looking can sing and sing well. They even talked about it on Oprah today – and once again I couldn’t believe it. I think it is truly distasteful of our society. This shows perfectly that we expect nothing from people who don’t fit the status quo. Our world seriously needs to get a clue.

  10. I don’t understand the hype! Yes, she did a wonderful performance and yes, she is the underdog of this series. However, it will all be very quickly forgotten if the next performance doesn’t equal or better this performance. I know its harsh to say it and I don’t mean it in an insulting manner to her but it’s true! If she falls at the next hurdle she will only be remembered in the archives of the newspapers and other similar styled websites.

    All of the articles which I have seen about it make it seem like this is the first time it has ever happened and an amazing feat! What of Paul Potts? He to had a similar story! Working in a phone shop, cowardly and timid he decides to try out on Britains got talent. He wasn’t attractive in most senses of the word, and he exclaimed that he was going to sing opera! The whole audience laughed, I laughed (watching it at home) and then he starts to sing and by the end of his performance he had a standing ovation and Amanda Holden was crying, if I remember corectly!

    I can’t see why so much hype has sprung up about her when it isn’t the first time it has happened! Especially with no mention of Paul Potts. Yes, the clips are remarkable but it all relies on her next performance!

  11. I like what you said about being relieved to have our prejudices proved wrong. That rang very true to me. Besides the feeling of shame associated with our prejudices, why do you think being proved wrong results in a feeling of relief? Why are we glad to discover the world isn’t they way we assume it is? Does it have to do with our own self-doubt? The possibility that the negative assumptions we hold about ourselves are wrong too?

  12. I bet that we will see Susan made up more and more as the show progresses. And I bet that we will get comments from the judges about her outer beauty and dignity catching up to her inner beauty and voice–sort of an “Extreme Make Over meets Britain’s got talent.

  13. I highly doubt many people cried while watching the video. However, I don’t doubt that they thought it made them seem very touched and emotional, and posted messages like that to look cool. I don’t know about everyone else, but those posts kind of had the opposite effect on me; I think they’re idiots.

  14. I was very touched, because this woman knew what the shallow public thought of her and was got on stage and sang her heart out anyway. I was not shocked because i thought that she would not have talent because she was not attractive, but because people were actually laughing at her and she shut them all up. This video was amazing and touching because you got to see the “underdog” show people that not matter what they think she was gonna sing anyway.

  15. I’ll tell you why I was touched by this woman. She’s everything I want to be. shy, humble, reserved, but CONFIDENT. You can’t sing like that if you don’t believe you will. That woman was singing from her soul. That’s why it was so touching, and it doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like; when you sing from your soul, it’s inviting the universe in. and THAT is what’s touching.

  16. sigh. People are shocked because she is, for all intents and purposes, a crazy-shut in-cat lady. I don’t think people are shocked by her looks so much, as those familiar with opera are aware that looks don’t combine with musical talent. And those who like american pop music will also be aware of this.

    As for why some people were brought to tears? It was a very impacting moment. It was a come from behind, underdog taking the win, beauty and majesty of song moment.

    Her life was literally changing before peoples eyes. Her small town, cat filled, life is over.

    And the song itself is a beautiful piece that has brought many to tears without this background story accompanying it.

  17. This is exactly the type of thing I am talking about: http://www.mybeautymatch.com/susan-boyle-britain%E2%80%99s-got-talent-makeover/

    But Britain’s Got Talent wont make such a big deal out of Boyle’s makeover.

  18. Here you go.

  19. I submitted a link but it doesn’t seem to have worked. We’ll give it another try. http://tv.msn.com/susan-boyle-makeover/?GT1=28103