On the Boyle

On the Boyle

If you’ve been living under a rock for the past week or so, you may have missed the buzz about Susan Boyle.

Susan Boyle is a contestant on Britain’s Got Talent who’s caused quite a stir. She’s a fortysomething-year-old church worker who looks like a fortysomething-year-old church worker, and appeared on stage in front of Simon Cowell, Piers Morgan and Amanda Holden looking, and acting, like a fortysomething-year-old church worker trying to make an impression. The audience sniggered when she said she wanted to be like Elaine Paige, and she had them on their feet and cheering with an excellent performance of I Dreamed a Dream from Les Misérables. Since then, she’s hardly been out of the headlines.

Now, I do take my hat off to Ms Boyle. She has what are called “learning difficulties” as a result of a difficult birth, was teased mercilessly at school, and it’s almost as if all this time she’s been plotting her revenge by cultivating a great voice and the talent to go with it. Good for her, I say, and I hope she goes on to bigger and better things.

But the whole hype is, shall we say, a little much for my taste. It took a one-liner from The Now Show to distil my thoughts into one, pithy sentiment: it’s faintly ridiculous that Piers Morgan should be practically reduced to tears at the revelation that a not very glamorous woman could actually sing.

An ordinary person who can sing? Why does that surprise us? Last year we had Paul Potts, so it’s not a huge revelation. And were we not all outraged at the news that the pretty, but not very talented, girl who “sang” at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics was actually lip-synching to a recording of another, talented but not very pretty, girl?

Amanda gushed about how this was a wake-up call for us all, while Piers (or was it Simon? — they’re both equally obnoxious people) mumbled something about this being the biggest surprise in his three years on the show. Meanwhile, the thing people, encouraged by the press, have been obsessing about is not the fact that Susan Boyle is a great singer; but that Susan Boyle has bushy eyebrows and a cat called Pebbles and yet is also a great singer — as if those facts had anything to do with each other at all.

So there it is. We express moral and democratic outrage because China saw fit to do a Milli Vanilli on us, yet we refuse to believe that a woman untouched by Botox can sing. The official YouTube video of the performance has had something like twenty million hits, most, I expect, people who’ve probably never even been to a musical in their lives and think that Les Misérables is a play about depressed homosexual women, and watching it to witness this astounding spectacle. Far from being a triumph of talent over glamour, this episode merely proves that we are so obsessed with glamour on stage that anything else is incredible.

And so Susan Boyle, a genuinely talented singer (and, apparently, a natural at that), has become a freak show. I think that’s unfair on Ms Boyle. And if you think I’m being unduly harsh: Would you have reacted the same way to her performance if she’d looked like Jennifer Aniston?

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