As the world awaits Susan Boyle's next performance, we have to ask: will the media mania, the pressures for a "total makeover," and the hungry maw of commercialism overwhelm and perhaps destroy the joie de vivre that makes her such an effective and affecting singing sensation? True, her magnificent voice, and the genuine surprise of its power and range, amazed and touched us deeply. But just as inspiring was the authenticity of her plucky personality that shone through the immediacy of the live contest. Susan's compelling self inspires us and undergirds her singing, and yet might she be unalterably changed by leaving behind her familiar (in the true sense of the word) world in her quest to become an acclaimed songstress? Launched and already half-way there, can she withstand the inevitable pressure? Will it be simply too much, too soon, and might her singing suffer as a result?
After all, something elemental and profound, beyond the obvious surprise of a dowdy, middle-aged woman delivering a beautiful song with grace and verve, brought a world audience to a communal outpouring of admiration and affection. Part of that response emanated from seeing a naturally happy individual delighting in her gift, delivering a performance as she put it, "to knock the socks off that audience." Although she comes from a village near Glasgow, she seems mercifully removed from the complexities and anxieties of the 21st century, its rambunctious pop culture, economic insecurities and political upheavals. In the midst of the frantic pace and potent worries of our time comes Susan Boyle like a messenger from a simpler dimension and old fashioned way of life. Somehow she has managed a good life without the challenges of work, marriage and family. She lives with satisfaction in her small, subsidized home sans computer and Internet access, and remains attached to and spiritually enriched by her parish community and Catholic faith. By all accounts, Susan loved and cared for her mother to the end and has benefited from taking her advice to "go for it."
At this point, Susan Boyle's singing career has embarked on the roller coaster of super celebrity with its promise of enormous financial rewards. As she takes that path, we'll feel some trepidation and surely root for her success. Although Susan exudes confidence in her gift, the soul of an artist can be fragile. Prettified for television, her palpable discomfort being interviewed and singing for Good Morning, America was painful to watch. Like it or not, the mavens of the total do-over (already encouraged by the Style section of The Washington Post -- hair, make-up, clothes, -- everything!) will relentlessly hustle her along to satisfy the potentially fleeting public appetite for all things Susan. Does she have the fortitude to withstand the all-encompassing pressures to conform to the expectations of stardom? Or will she submit to the demands for transformation and in the process lose the simple magic of her personality that connects her to our hearts? In an age of generalized fear and trembling, Susan Boyle offers a comforting reminder of the source of happiness in life, come what may -- family, friends and faith. Most of all, she communicates that lesson by singing with all her heart for herself, for us and, not a moment too soon, to give joy to a weary world. Let's hope all goes well.