This morning I prayed for Susan Boyle
The star born from the anonymous users of internet
This morning I prayed for Susan Boyle. I prayed from my heart as I would’ve prayed for my own child, and with the same feelings of both expectation and worry that parents have when their children leave the family nest. For a few weeks she's lived in our hearts, our imagination, our homes where we have listened to her extraordinary voice a thousand times. Now she has to get out of this universe of our minds and face the world, she has to go to the end of a difficult contest and then ... she will have to face the unknown.
No doubt I prayed for Susan Boyle’s success in the show that propelled her to fame, Britain’s Got Talent, but I prayed too for her well-being after she wins the competition. Because some sharks have started to turn around her fragile ship, and in some cases they are already showing their teeth. A journalist commented a couple of days ago that Susan had gone to the final stages of the show “despite” her poor taste at choosing such outdated songs as the ones that we all, millions of ignorant people, dared enjoy. An unknown Brit pop star –unknown, that is, compared to Susan– is trying to gain some fame today by telling the world that Susan isn’t that good, after all. “Overrated”, she said. Of course, for a second, anybody can become famous by attempting to stain the image of this universal icon.
That is why I prayed for Susan Boyle. Because if she won the best of our spirits, her fame can wake up the worst, too, the ugly green face of envy, the jealousy that pushes us to tear down those who for some reason made it up there like Susan just did.
I fear the general media, where yellow press tabloids lurk, where bad news is considered more news than good news, where any day without obvious wars or catastrophes could be chosen as an excellent moment to bring down the singer that the ordinary people of this world, through this untamed medium, the internet, chose as a star skipping the schemes of the usual players of fame game.
WHO IS SUSAN BOYLE
Susan Boyle is the youngest of ten kids –six sisters, four brothers– born to a couple of Irish immigrants living in Scotland, in the town of Blackburn, West Lothian. The daughter of a 47 year old mother, deprived of oxygen at birth, Susan suffered mild brain injury and had learning disabilities as a child, becoming thus, at school, the ideal victim for other children’s cruelty. She didn’t do particularly well in her studies, and had one job, for less than a year, in the kitchen of West Lothian College. She tried to get more skills participating in government training programs and attending acting school. Being the unmarried child in the family, she took care of her parents, in particular of her old, ailing mother, who died a couple of years before Susan’s rise to fame.
Susan has always liked to sing, and around twelve she was acting in school shows and singing in the choir. Her teachers noticed that she had a talent of which, at that age, she was unconscious. When did she start dreaming of a singer’s career? It is not clear. She told the judges in Britain’s Got Talent that she wanted to be as famous a singer as Eileen Page. But early on in her life she had never thought seriously about it … “well, not really”, she said, because anyway she was needed at home most of the time. She must’ve dreamed of it for a very long time, though; she must’ve imagined herself on stage, at least since the day she first went to a theater. The song that brought her sudden glory she heard it for the first time attending the performance of Les Misérables at the Playhouse in Edinburgh. That day –she told the journalist Gillian Harris, from the Sunday Times– “I dreamed a dream” took her breath away.
She took lessons to improve her singing after failing in 1995 to enter another contest, My Kind of People. She says that she was not ready at that time, and she does not seem to reproach Barrymore, the guy who rejected her, to have made fun of her. She had her victories, though. Many trophies in her modest home show the various singing contests she won locally. In 2000 she recorded for a charity “Cry me a River”, on a CD commemorating the millenium. She used to sing at family parties and local karaokes and was admired by the people who listened to her powerful voice.
Her coach Fred O’Neil and her mother tried to convince her to enter other national contests but she refused, arguing that people were judged mostly by their appearance. When Susan and her mother watched together Britain’s Got Talent, the old lady told her daughter to go for it, that she would surely win. Even though she refused again, her mother’s faith on her was going to be, in the end, the inspiration she needed to finally dare enter such important contest, and try to win against all odds.
Two years before that idea took hold of her mind, her mother passed away, at 91. Susan’s neighbors say that for several days she wouldn’t answer the phone nor open the door of the family home where she found herself alone. And Susan says that she stopped singing. For two years she didn’t sing any more, not even in the church’s choir. Instead, she did voluntary work for the church Notre Dame of Lourdes, visiting the elderly people of the parish and taking care of them. Finally, last August she realized that the auditions for “Britain’s got talent” were going to start, and for her mother, as a tribute to the faith she’d had for her daughter, she decided to “give it a try”.
The rest is history, forever recorded in the famous video, seen close to 100 million times as of today. This number seems incredible, but Susan Boyle has something that compels people to want to see her and listen to her again and again. A freelance journalist that wrote for the West Lothian Herald and Post about the CD recorded for the millenium said, already in 2000, that “the true showstopper for me is Susan Boyle's rendition of ‘Cry Me A River’, which has been on repeat in my CD player ever since I got this CD.”
Britain’s Got Talent … how to ever forget Susan entering that theater, facing the audience, answering the questions of the judges and bravely bearing their eye-rolling and other contemptuous gestures along with the bad manners of the public? She said later: “I know what they were thinking but why should it matter as long as I can sing? It’s not a beauty contest.” She just made a gesture for the music to start, as if nothing were happening, and … as I watch the video again and again, like so many millions go on doing … I think that for one second just before she started singing, everybody knew that something incredible was going to happen. Two seconds later the audience was shouting and clapping while all three judges were beaming with pleasure and astonishment. Susan’s voice rose like a musical pillar, reaching the sky, reaching heavens, and a few hours later, reaching the whole world.
WHY DOES SHE MATTER?
Andy Borowitz, a journalist with the Huffington Post, says something that –unwillingly showing the discrepancy between the perceptions of the show business milieu and those of the general public– provides us with an explanation to the reaction of so many to Susan Boyle: “Talented ugly person baffles world”, is the title of his article. And he goes on saying: In living rooms around the world as well as in the executive suites of media giants, those exposed to the Susan Boyle phenomenon are grappling with the paradox - thought impossible up until now - that an ugly person could be talented. In New York, NBC chief Jeff Zucker confirmed that his network was "seriously considering" lifting its official ban against featuring unattractive people on the air. "For years, the letters NBC have stood for 'No Butt-ugly Characters,'" Mr. Zucker said. "We're beginning to re-think that."
We are not going to express a judgement about such words. The phenomenon Susan Boyle has attracted many journalists. Some of them gave simple explanations that sound true and hearfelt: that she is our Cinderella, that she is an ordinary person that dared show her talent, that she won against all odds. Other commentaries are extremely baroque and try too hard to say something original. Some characters have the extreme theory that everything was planned and staged –the attitude of the judges, the laughters of the audience, Susan’s simple appearance– in order to create a contrast that would win the public’s enthousiasm.
I don’t think there is only one explanation, several might be correct, big things are not simple. Here is one more: the show business people think that Susan Boyle is ugly, unattractive, while the public of the world perceives her as what she obviously is, a very attractive person. First of all, this adjective “ugly”, how on earth anybody could think of applying it to Susan Boyle? I keep visualizing her dressed like a woman of the last decades of the XIX century and I know that she would’ve been considered a beauty in those years. But today also she is a beautiful woman, she has a well proportioned body, beautiful hands, beautiful smile, and hey, when she starts singing she captures your heart. So where’s the ugliness except in the eyes who see ugly? So many letters from around the world have told her that she is beautiful outside and inside, that she shines form her inner beauty … it’s pretty clear that she’s broken the petrified esthetic ideals of the show business milieu, where all women should look like plastic mannequins.
Then of course we all like heroes and we all like virtue. And Susan Boyle is quite a classic virtuous heroine. Difficult childhood, victim of bullies, a life of service to her parents, to her old ailing mother, to elderly people of her church … plus a monumental voice and a dream that all of a sudden has come true. How could we resist?
The judges of Britain’s Got Talent were impeccable after those nervous moments of … let’s say, surprise ... when Susan Boyle made her first appearance in the show. At her second presentation, the first semifinale, Simon apologized, Amanda was very admirative and supportive, and Piers Morgan said something really good and simple: “When the world was going through a pretty tough time and was looking for a bit of hope and inspiration, along came Susan Boyle to provide it, and on behalf of the whole world, because they are all watching you tonight, thank you Susan because you sing so well.”
SUSAN YOU ARE GOING TO WIN
Susan, you already won our hearts, so many millions of your fellow human beings love you! We are sure that you are going to win the contest too. We are sure that the people of Britain’s Got Talent are preparing for you a pertinent continuation for the victory that awaits you at the end of this month. Recordings, concerts, TV shows: we all await impatiently the opportunity for enjoying your voice. And no bully is going to dare attack you any more. If they do, you can laugh, we are so many of us protecting you with our gratitude and love.