As I stumble through American Idol withdrawal and recover from the fact that vanilla is still the flavor of choice in the U.S. whether we're talking ice cream or singers, I've been increasingly thankful for Susan Boyle, the angel on Britain's Got Talent. Whether she wins or loses the chance to sing for the Queen, she is the inspirational poster child for late bloomers everywhere.
Besides looking like that crazy spinster aunt in Wal-Mart clothes that your mother always invites to dinner because she lives alone with her cat, Boyle is a creaking forty-eight years old. That's right: she's more than twice the age of Kris Allen, our newly crowned American Idol. Yet, Boyle's age, church lady looks and lousy luck in love didn't deter our feisty lass from climbing up on stage and belting out "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Miserables in a way that made even the only female judge, Botox beauty Amanda Holden, cast cow-eyed looks of awe at this unlikely Scottish songbird.
Why did this performance become such an instant viral plague on YouTube that even my son sent it to me via his college email? It wasn't just for that OK tear-jerker of a song. It was because Susan Boyle gives all late bloomers hope that we still have a chance to realize our own dreams. Want to be a singer? Write the great American novel? Run a marathon? Be a millionaire? Take up painting? Invent a flying car? Sail around the world? Watching Susan Boyle, we know it's not too late! Even if I could wave a magic wand and somehow combine Kris Allen and Adam Lambert into one perfect manchild megastar, they could never do that. They're too beautiful. And way, way too young.
As writer Malcolm Gladwell noted in his wonderful October 20, 2008 New Yorker essay, "Late Bloomers," "Doing something truly creative, we're inclined to think, requires the freshness and exuberance and energy of youth." He points out notable examples of that, from Orson Welles to Mozart. However, Gladwell goes on to note that many geniuses are late bloomers, not prodigies who burst out of the gates at age fifteen, talents and ambitions razor sharp. Late bloomers muddle ahead, experimenting and failing and trudging forward for decades before they're a success, or even noticed at all. Until then, many late bloomers are perceived as failures. They have to rely on mundane jobs (think of Einstein toiling away in his patent office) or kindly patrons as they inch forward toward their dreams.
What's so inspiring about Susan Boyle? She dreamed her dream not for a mere seventeen years, like bluesy, confident American Idol finalist Allison Iraheta, so perfectly at home on stage next to veteran rocker Cyndi Lauper, but for almost half a century. Now that's star power.