UPDATE: Between writing this column and it being published yesterday, Susan Boyle had a make-over of sorts…..Here’s how she looks now with her hair dyed and her brows mowed:
And here’s how she looked before……
Susan Boyle does not want a makeover thank you very much. Or botox. After her performance on Britain’s Got Talent was viewed by more than 50 million people via Youtube, the 47 year old Scottish woman with the big voice and the bigger eyebrows has eclipsed First Puppy, Bo Obama, as the feel-good story of the year.
But why? Why are we getting teary when we watch that clip? Why are we sending it to our friends and discussing it at work and over dinner? Why are there 2.1 million pages on the Internet about a talent show contestant?
For those without broadband, you need to understand that Susan Boyle is not your average pop star. When she walked on stage for her audition, it was all sneers and jeers from the audience and the judges (apparently, looking ordinary makes you an acceptable target for cruelty…who knew?) The judges asked a few condescending questions and Susan answered them chirpily. Cue eye-rolling. Then she began to sing and stuck it up the eye-rollers. As one judge marvelled afterwards, “That was my biggest surprise in three years of this show”.
Yes, Susan Boyle has a magnificent voice. But there are plenty of people with magnificent voices and they’re not out-rating Barack Obama’s victory speech on youtube. They’re not making us cry. Why is the world suddenly so obsessed with this ordinary looking woman and her extraordinary voice?
The short answer is this: Susan Boyle is not hot. Men don’t want to have sex with her. Women don’t want to look like her. Talented? Enormously. Hot? Not a bit. And until she opened her mouth, this made her invisible in two deeply superficial industries: pop music and TV.
We’ve become accustomed to celebrities with no discernible talent or visible occupation whose sole accomplishment is hotness (hello Nicole Ritchie, Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian, Victoria Silverstedt etc). But someone who’s talented without being attractive? Well gosho, where do we file her? The answer, it seems, is under ‘Teary and Uplifting’.
People who look like Susan Boyle don’t appear anywhere in pop culture. Outside pop culture, they aren’t merely invisible, they’re ridiculed. Watching her entrance, it’s disconcerting to see how unperturbed she is by the laughter. Maybe it’s because she’s used to it. You see, Susan Boyle has been laughed at all her life.
In all the breathless coverage of the Susan Boyle phenomenon, there have been some poignant moments. During an interview with a newspaper last week, two local boys from her village came knocking at the door to ask for an autograph. “I don’t know why you need this,” she says good naturedly, scribbling her name on a post-it note. “You’ve known my name all your lives.”