Britain's Got Talent contestant Susan Boyle has taken the world by storm with her angelic voice, but with the many talented singers performing today, one has to ask, "What makes Susan special?" Famed LA vocal coach Eric Vetro thinks he's pegged it. "She's an Everywoman as opposed to an untouchable fantasy goddess, so maybe that's why people react to her... They say, 'She's one of us, but look how talented she is.'"
She took the BGT stage to gasps and guffaws at her prim, dowdy look, but she had the last laugh as jaws dropped when she sang. She's now known as the woman who shut up Simon Cowell. She's a 48 year old Scot from the small town of West Lothian who lives with her cat, Pebbles. She's unmarried and spent years caring for her ailing mother until her death in 2007 at age 91. It was due to a promise to her mum to do something with her life that she went on the BGT to try once again to share her voice with the world.
She'd tried before to gain recognition for her talent. She'd attended Edinburgh Acting School, sung at Edinburgh Fringe, sang in church and pubs, cut and shopped a demo, contributed a song to her town's millennium CD, and auditioned for another British TV show, My Kind of People. Far from overnight success, she was building a small fan base amongst the locals, but not experiencing the wide-ranging recognition she dreamed of achieving. Most of the time, she practiced singing the way so many of us have sung along to our favorite song on the radio - singing into a hairbrush for a microphone while in front of the mirror.
It wasn't just her singing career that was tough to get off the ground. The world almost didn't get to hear her voice. Boyle's mother was 47 when she delivered Susan, the youngest of ten children. Baby Susan was deprived of oxygen during the difficult labor, but survived. It affected Boyle's development though and she was diagnosed with learning disabilities upon entering school. Perfect fodder for bullies, Boyle was taunted with names like "Susie Simple" throughout childhood.
Then the woman whose only job in life had been six months as a trainee cook became the biggest name in show business with a jut of her hip, a square of her shoulders, a polite, but firm quip to Cowell, and the first two notes of "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Miserables. The sassy plain Jane with frizzy salt and pepper locks and a few extra pounds wowed the live and TV audience from those first sweet notes, then proceeded to do the same across the Internet. A week after her heartfelt performance, Boyle videos had become the most watched online. She set the record for the most video views in one week at 85.2 million. She surpassed the view counts of everyone from U.S. President Barrack Obama to comedian Tina Fey. Now, she's on track to become the most viewed video subject online, currently holding the number 5 position with 186,000,000 views. But all the other Top Five leaders have been online more than a year, while Boyle's video has been online less than a month.
She's "absolutely gobsmacked" as she puts it, over peoples' reactions to her singing. The down-to-earth, self-effacing country woman has inspired many. Mere days after her performance, fan sites sprung up in her honor, including Susan-Boyle.com and The Phenomenon That Is Susan Boyle. She's now keeping up with her fans via Facebook and appearing via phone and live remote on British and American talk shows. Her idol, singer Elaine Paige, calls her "a role model for everyone who has a dream" and wants to perform a duet with Boyle.
More than a role model or an Everywoman though, Boyle is the ultimate heroine in a time when we need a hero. As the economy continues to sink to lower depths, dragging us all down with it, we need a bright spot. In the Great Depression, the masses flocked to films to lose themselves in a dream and forget the drear of their everyday. In our 21st century Depression, as we cut every corner to barely cover the bills, we search for a hero, for hope, but rather than celluloid fiction, ours is flesh and blood. We needn't leave the house and part with hard-earned money to see and hear her, we need only boot our computer, and for a few moments our eyes are filled with one of us, while our ears are treated to an angel sound sweeping us away from the mounting bills, empty cupboards, and lost jobs. We see Cinderella at the ball, with princes of men courting her, every hand applauding her, and the world at her feet, and we know and believe if it can happen for her, it could happen for us. Perhaps for us it's on a smaller scale, but Cinderella Susan Boyle has given our generation what we needed - hope.
The references for this article include: Don't call Susan Boyle 'pitchy'! Voice coaches, critics say 'Talent' contestant really is a talented singer, Dan Richman, MSNBC.com; Susan Boyle - Wikipedia; susan-boyle.com; The phenomenon that is Susan Boyle; Singing Sensation Susan Boyle obliterates online video viewership records, Victor Godinez, The Dallas Morning News, April 20, 2009; How a Villager Became the Queen of All Media, Jose Antonio Vargas, The Washington Post, April 20, 2009; and The 100 Million Views Club: The Most Watched Viral Videos of All-Time?, Matt Cutler, Visible Measures, May 1, 2009.
This post blogged by Carlie Lawson. She is a hazards consultant, freelance writer, and weather nerd living in Norman, OK, also known as the weather capital of the United States.