Susan Boyle Sings on Britain's Got Talent 2009 Episode 1 @ Yahoo! Video
I think Susan Boyle is great, and I think the song she chose, "I Dreamed a Dream", from Les Miserables was a perfect choice, both for the way it fit her impressive vocal range and for the irony of its lyrics. However, the rest of the "Susan Boyle phenomena" offends me on so many levels.
This is, sadly, a great example of how television and pop culture rule the world. A veritable handful of TV producers have the power to tell us how to feel and what to think. The producers of "Britain's Got Talent" decided that Susan Boyle should be played as a sympathetic character - an ugly duckling underdog who, against all odds, shows the world she can succeed. That portrayal, a Cinderella cliche that has been around since cavemen ruled the world, plays much better than the truth.
The truth is that Susan Boyle is not such an underdog. She deserves a lot of credit for auditioning for the show simply because it takes a lot of guts for anyone to try performing before a large audience. But why is anyone surprised that someone who LOOKS like Susan Boyle could actually be a gifted singer? The world is full of people just like her - and not just in the entertainment field. People who are not attractive enough or thin enough or clever enough to have their full potential shine through to their bosses.
Susan Boyle is a reality TV confection - cleverly invented and packaged by reality TV producers who knew exactly who should be cast to make people feel better about themselves. There's nothing folks like better than an underdog.... someone who can be a champion for the "plain janes" of the world.
Susan Boyle was not a "happy accident", but part of a tried and true formula. The producers of the show (including Simon Cowell) knew exactly what they were getting when they put her on the stage, and they played it up big time. Do you really think those reaction shots of Simon and of Piers Morgan (not to mention the two goofballs off stage) were a coincidence?
So yes - I am bothered by the naivety of people who do not see that this emotional groundswell of support around the world was entirely orchestrated. It probably worked better than producers ever could have dreamed, but they certainly knew what they were doing.
I am also bothered by the fact that as much as people are cheering for the ugly duckling, it only underscores the fact that you can't be too thin or too attractive in this world. The only change that Susan Boyle may add to the equation is that it will no doubt prompt some producer to create a reality TV talent show made up entirely of fat, ugly, short and smelly people to compete for your affections.
Here are a couple of other safe predictions. Susan Boyle will now be the odds-on favorite to win "Britain's Got Talent", because she now has the world in her corner, just as God - or, actually, the show's producers - intended. She will go on to become a giant Reality TV star in Britain - expect to see her on either "Big Brother" or "Strictly Come Dancing" (the U.K.'s version of "Dancing With the Stars") in the near future. She will be paid big money to be given makeovers and to go on a diet. And she will never be quite as captivating as she was the first time we saw her.
And here's another safe bet. When "America's Got Talent" comes back next summer, you can bet there will be plenty of new underdogs to root for who are every bit as ratty-looking as Susan Boyle.