Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Susan Boyle Phenomenon

Why has UK (Scottish) Britain’s Got Talent Contestant, Susan Boyle, become such a huge worldwide success almost overnight? Is she really such a phenomenal talent as many claim, including usually harsh American Idol/Britain’s Got Talent judge, Simon Cowel?

Well… Perhaps there’s something else adding to the incredible rise of Miss Boyle, something far more deep-seated that has very little to do with the sound of her voice - but everything to do with “her voice” in the sense of what kind of message her story sends out.
From that perspective, hers is a voice of inspiration. It tells us that maybe we’re not so totally lost in the fluff of the commercial age with all its trimmings and sugarcoated superficialities after all. Or if we are, maybe times could be changing? Perhaps we are at last ready to re-think some of our most unaccommodating values? Maybe. Still, I can’t help but think that Susan Boyle’s choice of song for the UK contest was ironic (“I Dreamed a Dream”).

Whatever the case is, one thing is certain; many people have simply had enough of plastic images and super over-produced artist that all look and sound the same. In that sense, Susan Boyle is a wonderful breath of fresh air. She’s totally herself – and that, unfortunately, is enough to cause a worldwide sensation these days.

Susan Boyle’s story is a wonderful one, but that’s mainly what it is – a great fairytale story that feeds a growing need for something different, something authentic. It speaks to some inherent belief in all of us that it’s OK to dream of something bigger and perhaps seemingly out of reach, and that those dreams can come true – no matter how late in life.

What is so ”shocking” to most people about the Susan Boyle story is that she is such an unlikely candidate for this kind of success, certainly in this business! She doesn’t ”look the part” , in fact as far from it as is humanely possible according to our stereotypical celebrity standards. She is far ”too old” for a debutante (although she is only in her forties), and she is totally nonconformist, which most record labels and producers tend to shy away from because it often spells less commercial adaptability and success. The mere fact that the judges in the Britain’s Got Talent contest clearly experienced both shock and awe when Boyle first opened her mouth says a lot about how we have come to naturally expect talent to be presented in a certain way.

As a voice and performance coach of almost twenty five years, I have come across a substantial number of incredibly talented people – many of them far more talented, a lot younger and, certainly more stereotypical looking than Susan Boyle. But few of them possessed the one quality that Miss Boyle clearly has: total authenticity. She is what she is. And she doesn’t seem to concern herself one bit with other people’s opinion – not yet anyway… And that is oddly infectious and appealing.

The truth is I do see the Susan Boyle’s story as part of a growing trend. More and more people prefer authenticity over a smooth polish. They want something that they can relate to and be moved by on a deeper level, and a smooth polish simply doesn’t provide any rough edges to hold on to. They want to be inspired by their own kind rather than by someone totally unreachable from a different planet.
I suspect that to most people the standard celebrity is as depressing as they are inspiring because they’re so “picture perfect”. No average John or Jane, no one “normal” without a personal shopper, a private chef, an in house photographer, a fresh supply of Botox in the fridge, and a personal yoga instructor on call 24/7 could possibly imagine themselves in their favorite celebrity’s shoes - till now.

Any woman over forty can probably see just some part of herself in Susan Doyle – and that’s why we love her. She has become the symbol of the real desperate housewife who doesn’t spend five hours a day in the gym and looks 50 going on 25 “ because she’s worth it”!

I say good for Susan Boyle! I really wish her all the very best and I hope she will never fall prey to the rigid rules of a business that has for far too long dictated what we should all like and dislike and set as our general standards for what is cool, popular and even acceptable.

Suzann Rye.

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