Sunday, April 19, 2009

Susan Boyle - Not Just Another Pretty Face

I have to admit that I have never been into the reality show contests that have populated the airwaves. Many of them have a somewhat sadistic element to them when the show’s judges are expected to pass judgment and sometimes even heap ridicule on contestants who are pouring their hearts and souls into making the best of an opportunity to pursue their dream.

But when everybody started talking about Susan Boyle stunning the world with her recent performance on Britain’s Got Talent that transformed her into an
Unlikely YouTube Sensation, I had to check it out.

Miss Boyle, 47, confounded a multitude of stereotypes by unveiling her gorgeous singing voice last Saturday night. Part of the joy of watching her performance was seeing the obnoxious, smarmy grimaces disappear from the faces of Simon Cowell and Piers Morgan, two of the show’s judges, and seeing the audience shift, in an instant, from tittering condescension to open-mouthed admiration.

Miss Boyle is unmarried (and unkissed, she told the program), has no job, lives with her cat and has until now sung mostly in her local church. But she has become a heroine not only to people dreaming of being catapulted from obscurity to fame but also to those who cheer her triumph over looks-ism and ageism in a world that so values youth and beauty.

Watching the video of Miss Boyle’s performance stunned me the moment she broke into song and moved me to tears. I must admit that it affects me the same way each time I see the video. But my feelings are about so much more than her voice, as beautiful as it is. It was a lesson to those who found her performance to be so ‘unexpected’ because of her plain looks and relatively advanced age. It was noteworthy in the video how judge Simon Cowell rolled his eyes when he heard that Miss Boyle was 47. No need for him to worry about that on American Idol where the upper age limit is 28.

And watching
the video of Paul Potts, “a tubby, dentally challenged, cripplingly shy Welsh cell phone salesman” singing opera in an earlier 2007 show is no less moving.

When it comes to performing along with being in the corporate world, looks and youth all too often count more than anything else. But that is nothing new when you consider
Cyrano de Bergerac, whose love for Roxane had to be lived vicariously through the handsome Christian since he felt that Roxane could never love someone with Cyrano’s plain looks and large nose.

Although many versions of this classic have been performed before and since, my favorite is the 1950 movie version which resulted in a Best Actor Academy Award for José Ferrer. Those who have seen it will never forget the beautiful Balcony Scene along with the ultimate tear-jerker ending My White Plume where Roxane discovers that she "had never loved but one man, but lost him twice." But hey, if Cyrano were good looking, there would be no story!

Perhaps what is saddest of all is that there are countless other talented people like Susan Boyle and Paul Potts out there who will never be discovered often because are not young or have pretty faces. Despite
this recording from 1999 showing off Susan’s incredibly beautiful voice, it still took her another 10 years to become an overnight sensation. We have all been told many times “Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover”. Maybe after seeing Susan's great breakthrough, let's hope that we have finally learned.

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