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The remarkable Susan Boyle: vulnerable phenomenon

Updated on September 23, 2012

Susan Boyle: the fair tale begins ...

I, like many people, am a sucker for the underdog. So, when a short, overweight woman with a bad perm and frumpy frock stepped onto a stage in 2009 in front of the somewhat gladiatorial audience of Britain's Got Talent (BGT) I feared for her.

I saw the bored cynicism of the judges sitting on the panel in front of her, heard the sniggers from the audience and watched them turn to one another in scandalised, and what frankly appeared to be bitchy, disbelief. The whole attitude in that youthful auditorium was one of 'how dare such an old woman with so little to offer in the way of looks appear in front of us'.

The woman was Susan Boyle and after gamely trying to hold her own against Simon Cowell with a bit of arch banter, she began to sing ...

Susan Boyle: middle-aged superstar.
Susan Boyle: middle-aged superstar. | Source

When the sniggering stopped ...

When I originally wrote this hub I included a video here of Susan’s emergence onto the world’s stage at a heat of Britain’s Got Talent. I have since had to remove it as the company who made the video has blocked it from being used by the public.

However it is still on YouTube here and I urge you to look at the reception she got when she walked onto the stage … and the difference with how she left the stage after singing. Human nature got a big wake-up call.

You haven't heard of Susan Boyle?

Maybe you haven't heard of Susan or her singing although this is hard to envisage as the media has a somewhat overpowering love affair with her, even to the point of familiarly calling her Subo.

Inexplicably she lost the final of Britain's Got Talent 2009 to a dance troupe called Diversity (ever heard of them? Nope, thought not) but despite this minor setback this was the seminal moment in Susan Boyle's life and her future success was, and is, assured. Or at least for as long as her fragile disposition can cope with the relentless intrusiveness of fame.

A delicate vulnerability.

For there is so much more to Susan Boyle than the determined little spinster that stood upon the stage on that momentous occasion.

Born in 1961 in Scotland, the youngest of nine children she was deprived of oxygen for a brief time at birth, an unfortunate event which has left her with mild learning difficulties. As a result of this she was bullied at school and left with very little in the way of qualifications. Singing was her consolation and her practise mostly took place when she sang for her local Catholic church.

As she grew older she took singing lessons and started to sing at karaoke sessions, even appearing once at the prestigious Edinburgh Festival. But despite singing in many small competitions and laboriously saving up to pay for the recording of her own three track CD, Susan was still ignored by the professional music companies. It would seem that looks were the main requirement, talent not necessarily being needed.

It is interesting now to imagine the chagrin of the recording companies who turned her down simply because they did not see her potential. It is a lesson they may never learn, their shallowness being so deeply ingrained.

Keeping the faith with her talent.

The disadvantages that Susan had to cope with until that defining moment on BGT make it all the more remarkable that she not only succeeded but also that she so steadfastly kept the faith with herself. She followed her dream until she made it, not many of us can say that.

The remorseless price of fame.

Such fame however came at a cost. Always emotionally delicate Susan was admitted to the Priory, the famous private psychiatric clinic, the day following the final of BGT suffering from exhaustion and stress. She stayed for five days until she felt strong enough to face the media and the public once more.

It is BGT judge Simon Cowell's contention that she did not know how to cope with not winning but this analysis seems to be a simplistic reading of the problem. He needs to realise that not only had she given her all to BGT, pinning all her hopes and dreams on that one final shot, but in her innocence it must have seemed to her that she had lost everything she had tried so hard to achieve all her life. How wonderfully wrong she was.

What does the future hold for Susan Boyle?

Because of her unfortunate start in life Susan may always be a vulnerable person, despite her large and fiercely protective family. It still remains to be seen if she can cope with the trade off between fame and personal freedom.

She will always be at the mercy of over-enthusiastic fans who appear to stalk her and who leave her nervous and frightened but her emotional make-up is part of who she is and, most possibly, part of what makes her singing so intensely moving.

She will always be at the mercy of the criticisms of the less talented. For instance the disrespectful verbal attack on her by Ricky Gervais who, as his own 'comedic' star wanes, has taken to desperately sneering at the vulnerable in our society in an attempt to appear funny. Such graceless attacks always say far more about the attacker than the person attacked which fortunately Susan is astute enough to recognise.

But really it's all about the beauty of the voice ...

Susan Boyle's voice needs no fulsome praise from me or anyone else ... it sings for itself. She does not bellow, she does not shriek, she does not run up and down the octaves in a show of virtuosity that the song does not require.

I, for one, greatly respect her for the fact that she was unwilling to just roll over and die as the rest of us plain janes are expected to do. She demanded respect for her voice if not her looks, and she got it.

It cost her emotionally but she did it and now her simple dignity continues to carry her forward. She will never be young or beautiful, she may never be slender but she will always have that voice.

Susan Boyle dreamed her dream ... and continues to do so. She is quite simply ... a phenomenon.


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