The lone dissenter on Susan Boyle

Okay, everyone I know is crazy about Susan Boyle. I see Facebook postings about how great she is and how people are amazed by how good she is. I see news stories about how mean people are for laughing at her. I see feminist critiques citing her as a champion for how women especially should not be judged by their looks.

Am I the only one who isn’t caught up in all this? I saw the YouTube video. The instant she appeared, I knew exactly what would happen. She would be awkward and ugly, people would laugh at her (and the camera would linger for that extra moment on each sneer), and then she would blow everyone away with an incredible voice, and the judges and audience would recant their disdain and embrace her.

Do people really think she just walked right on stage like that? Everyone was surprised? No. The producers planned it. She had to audition, and at that moment the producers knew they had it made (“It’s Paul Potts… but better… this will be ratings gold!”). They would let the camera crew know to highlight certain things (if audience members are laughing in disgust, linger longer on those folks), they would let the hosts know to make extra fun of her beforehand. Maybe the judges wouldn’t be let in on it, so their surprise will seem more genuine.

This was carefully plotted, folks. Make no mistake about it. And even though people were surprised, I think they had a right to be surprised (they didn’t have a right to make fun of her, though). It’s not that she’s ugly (even though she is). It’s not that her dress is frumpy and unfashionable (even though it was). It’s her demeanor. It’s her seeming obliviousness. It’s her seeming lack of stage presence.

There are good singers, and there are good performers. If you’re lucky you’ll get a good performer who is also a good singer. If you see someone who seems physically awkward and doesn’t command the room when she walks on the stage, you think you’re not going to see a good performer. It actually makes sense. For the producers and Britain’s Got Talent ratings, it’s just trimming on the tree that she’s also physically unattractive and unfashionable.

But people’s expectations that she would not be a good performer are perfectly in line with how she walked on stage, how she made that awkward little dance while talking (as if she were a three-year-old girl). So stop judging yourselves for misjudging her stage presence and performing abilities.

The worst part is that all of these people who say “Shame on us for judging her by her looks and laughing at her” will still judge people by their looks and still laugh at them. I may be the most cynical of them all when it comes to the Susan Boyle phenomenon, but all I see are Britain’s Got Talent exploiting an ugly duckling, and people congratulating themselves on guilt that won’t lead to real character change. You haven’t learned your lesson, general public.

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12 Comments

  1. Thank you! I’m glad I’m not the only one. People weren’t amazed that she could sing despite being ugly (I think it reveals a lot more about the people making that claim that they’re making it, really). It was amazing that she could sing so well despite giving off all sorts of signals that she was awkward, weird, and kinda crazy. Not that those are necessarily bad things, but when someone tells you they’re 47 and have never been kissed, that’s a red flag. It’s not that that in and of itself means she’s crazy, but I would say the two are highly correlated. And generally when crazy people go on these shows and say they can sing, they can’t. You’re not a bad person for being a human being and using your senses to read the signals someone is giving off.

  2. You said you knew the instant she appeared that she would be a great singer… but isn’t part of that because the context is a YouTube video and all the hype surrounding it? If you watched the performance unfold in the context of its regular television broadcast, it would be far less obvious. I’ve watched a number of these types of shows, and a show’s focusing on an awkward person just as often results in a horrible performance that is made fun of. The difference is that those don’t make it on to the front page of Yahoo. If it does make it there, then you can probably expect something far different.

    I agree that people saying “shame on us” will probably not change. But part of the reason this story touches so many people, is that she will succeed despite all the odds seem stacked against this woman realizing her dream of becoming a professional singer — she’s old, awkward, and unattractive. If she was ever going to go pro, you’d think it would’ve happened in her younger years. And here she is now singing for the world… and will most likely realize her dream of becoming a musical success. This is a feel good story nonetheless.

  3. I can honestly say it’s not the hype that surrounds the YouTube video, as I didn’t hear all the hype until after I’d see the video. It’s the way it’s presented, actually. When contestants on shows like this are meant to bomb and be made fun of, there isn’t as much lead-up and not as much of a focus on people laughing at them beforehand.

    I certainly wish Susan Boyle the best (as I would wish to anyone who dreams of fame and success using their talents), but this is also a corporate wet dream, not just a touching story.

    As Shrimpula points out, if people did judge her by her looks, they should be shaming themselves, but awkwardness and seeming obliviousness to social cues are still usually good indicators that someone will not be a good performer.

  4. I avoid social websites because of this. Untruthful gossip and rumors can go through and give people wrong impressions.

  5. “When contestants on shows like this are meant to bomb and be made fun of, there isn’t as much lead-up and not as much of a focus on people laughing at them beforehand.”

    Actually, that’s not entirely true. Being a Yank, I’ve never seen a full episode of Britain’s Got Talent. But I’ve seen full episodes of America’s Got Talent, and of American Idol, and on those they certainly do sometimes have a lot of lead-up for contestants that are weird and turn in awful performances. They do that almost as often as they have a big lead-up for a really good contestant.

  6. I have made a conscious decision not to read about/watch any video regarding this thing, for exactly the reasons you wrote. It seems so, well, not-news-y. Another knockoff of a knockoff TV show makes fun of another crazy cat lady, only this time she can sing pretty. Now everybody’s all in a fuss. I’m just waiting for it to be over so we can focus on something that matters.

  7. totally agree. But i still love paul potts. That audition still gets me. But I think that susan boyle was staged to be in the same vein. Can you just imagine the scouts thinking process? “Lets find the most awkward person w/ a decent voice ever.”

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