Thursday, April 16, 2009

Susan Boyle Soars

Have you seen the YouTube phenom Susan Boyle? If not, prepare to be amazed:

Susan, a delightfully real, middle-aged, unemployed Scotswoman, shook the rafters, brought down the house (insert your own showbiz cliché here), and won three ecstatic “Yes” votes from the judges, including curmudgeonly Simon Cowell, on “Britain’s Got Talent.” Within days, Susan’s brilliant voice, previously available only in her church and (presumably) her bathroom shower, was spread internationally with a YouTube audience of more than 22 million.

Susan’s voice is absolutely stunning, but an additional factor at work was the judges’ and audience’s initial misperception of her based on her looks. Susan, with her bulges and bushy eyebrows, is decidedly not a cover girl. You could hear derision in the bumptious music playing behind the two-minute intro and you could see it on the faces of the judges and the audience as she ambled onstage. You could see it in the skeptical grimaces that greeted her stated desire to be like Elaine Paige (a British theatre and cabaret star).

And then they cued the tape. And Susan sang.

What a kick to literally see jaws drop before she finished eight notes of the song – only eight notes! – and to see people’s prejudices utterly dashed. OK, it was the typical teary power ballad that wins over audiences, in this case “I Dreamed a Dream” from “Les Miserables.” But it is a great song, and more significantly, this unknown, unassuming woman from Scotland just recorded what may be the definitive version of one of our modern standards.

“It was a complete privilege listening to that,” said judge Amanda Holden, who appeared emotionally jarred by the performance.

A privilege it was, and a welcome reminder, in our increasingly decadent culture, to value character and talent above appearance.