Wednesday, 15 April 2009

If you watch one thing today, please make it this

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I don't often put up links to Youtube sensations. It is partly because they seem to me often fleeting and not that pointful; partly because I'm not much for fiddling around with links; and mostly because the magnificent Sara Silverman singing I'm Fucking Matt Damon spoiled me forever for anything else. But this one is in a category all of its own.

I don't watch talent shows, and have only a sketchy idea of who Simon Cowell is or what he means. I know he is cynical and grumpy and apparently takes pleasure in telling deluded performers that they will never amount to anything. Clearly that was what he was gleefully preparing to do when a slightly awkward 47 year old Scottish woman walked onto the stage and said that she wanted to be as famous as Elaine Paige. She did not look the part; nothing about her was equipped for fame, from her unpainted face to her admission that she lived alone with her cat. Then she opened her mouth, and it turned out, in a glorious, shocking moment of surprise, that she could sing. Cowell went from sceptical rolling eyes to cartoonish jaw drop of pure astonishment. Then, to his credit, a smile of pure, uncontaminated pleasure spread over his face. The lovely Susan Boyle achieved something no one else in the country has ever been able to do: she made Simon Cowell look like a human being.

There are several fascinating things about this whole affair. Everyone was prepared to write Susan Boyle off, simply because she did not look right. The newspapers, even after her triumph, have used cruel descriptions of her - 'a dowdy spinster' said one reputable broadsheet. Interestingly, the audience was much more generous - the moment they saw she could sing like an angel, they went nuts; they were all for her, they were on her side, nothing else mattered but this beautiful voice. On the blogosphere, the thing everyone is saying is that it has taught them the most important and overlooked lesson of all: don't you go judging a book by its cover. The final thing, which affects me on a personal level, is that the media is defining her as a forty-seven year old woman who has never married. This comment does not have to be illuminated; it stands alone, meaning: freak. Well, I am a forty-two year old woman who has never married. I would like to stand in solidarity with the miraculous Miss Boyle and say that not doing the expected thing does not make one entirely beyond the pale.

Watch it, anyway. It is a little parable for our times. It is the classic story of the underdog coming out and beating all comers. It made me cry like a baby.


  1. Thank you for posting this - not a programme I watch, so I would have missed a rather unedifying reflection of our society. You are so right, we all, to a greater or lesser extent, make judgements on appearance, and not many people are big enough not to care about that, I wonder how long the media will allow her to remain Susan Boyle with a great personality and an amazing voice before the stylists clone her into "an entertainer". Maybe I am too cynical, but I suspect that Simon Cowell, although he loved her performance, was also calculating his future producers fees ?

  2. Titian - I know, I am already dreading the makeover. The sad thing is - not that it should matter, as we now discover - that a tiny eyebrow pluck and some conditioner would show her true loveliness; beautiful dark eyes, I thought. But the stylists will never stop at that: there must be too much lipstick and eyeshadow and clothes which have nothing to do with her own personality but are deemed of the moment - don't you know mustard is HUGE this season? Mind you, I have a suspicion she might just bat them all off with a rolled up newspaper. I'd buy tickets to that.

  3. Actually - strike the last comment about the eyebrows. Why should any woman, anywhere, ever, be judged on EYEBROWS? I got lost in shallowness there for a moment.

  4. It was a complete shock that one - shows how much we do judge so easily.

    Quick note on Simon Cowell - much as I don't want to, he is generally the only person I really agree with. He is harsh (and mostly needen't be) - but he is generally right! Scary eh?!

  5. I sobbed when I saw that clip the other day. It was truly, deeply inspiring.
    Unsurprising that the nasty comments, the bitchiness and the ageist, sexist, looksist (is that a word?) shallow crap is starting to come out and snipe at her, and by proxy all of the rest of us to make sure we all fall in line with a polished, consumer-friendly ideal. I'm sure you're right about the makeover - make the vessel match the voice - and they'll probably even try to send her on a media sponsored date (VOM) to boost some ratings.
    But whatever happens to her now and however it is packaged, her dream was to sing in front of a large audience and wow them, and this has come true. She didn't give a monkey's about not being married, she just wanted to sing. We heard you , sister! The rest of her story is just icing. For her and for us.

  6. Completely agree that she SHOULDN'T get a make-over!!! Her charm lies in the fact that she's HERSELF, a natural woman. I'm not with her on cats on account of the fact that I'm TERRIFIED of them but all respect to her and anyone else who isn't married and doesn't have to compromise on telly or interiors. And I mean that in an entirely serious way.

  7. Lovely, I would never have seen this, and she's quite amazing.

  8. And now Amanda Holden has adopted her - as a sleek cat might adopt a struggling sparrow i thought - championing her eyebrows against the corporate blandness threatened by Mr Cowell, who apparently wanted Cheryl Cole to lose her fab accent for the American market, in case they didn't understand her. God forbid they might not and she might not crack the land of the free and blinding white teeth.

  9. Brilliant post. I saw this the other day at a friend's behest, and it is truly lovely. She has such a beautiful voice, and the reactions of the panel really do go to show that, as you say, they are all human! I love that everyone gets to their feet. Fantastic. I want to listen again, but am in the library without functioning headphones... Shame.



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