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Jacob Dickerman

Jacob Dickerman

Posted April 23, 2009 | 08:45 AM (EST)

Susan Boyle's Success is Not In Spite of Her Looks


Let's be clear on this one. Let's be really clear for one second. Susan Boyle is not a bad singer. She's got pitch, she ain't bad. She's pretty good, for a person with absolutely no training, but she's also not transcendent. And let's now think about this for one second, let's really be clear on this one. If she was ten years younger, and instead of homely looking, just was sort of plain? You'd never have noticed her.

Susan Boyle does not succeed in spite of her looks, as the Hollywood story we all want to make her out of would suggest, but because of them. We are not so special and good and sensitive for making her into a star. We are not fantastic people who can look past her appearance. The fact is, if you heard her on the radio, you'd probably say, "Huh, that's not exactly what I was looking for" and change the channel.

She's just not a pop singer. She doesn't sing the kind of music that most of us actually enjoy, this sort of operatic stuff is just not what we buy. She's not Ella. She's not Aretha. She isn't Joan Osborne. Make fun of the "What if God Was One Of Us" song as much as you like, go back, take a listen to one of her albums, that woman's got pipes. Check out her album "How Sweet It Is", where she takes a bunch of songs from the sixties and seventies, rearranges them and does her own take on songs like "War", "Axis Bold as Love", and "How Sweet It Is"? It's a really terrific album. Most folks? They're not really going to know her work. You know why? Because she's not great looking. She's not bad looking, not at all. But she's not this fantastic face. She looks pretty much like a normal human being. So she has some fans, a small grouping out there like me who actually like her voice and her compositions, but she's not getting the hits of Susan Boyle.

Susan Boyle is the other side of the coin in our appearance obsessed culture. She's the negative of all that youth and sex obsessed culture of ours, but that doesn't mean that she's not reliant on it. Quite the opposite. The reason that we are interested in Susan Boyle is because she's a foil of a pop star.

Hey look, all the best to her, and if she does well, great. I'm not going to buy her album, because I'm actually not interested in her music, but that may just be me. All I'm trying to say is this: anyone who's upset about Susan Boyle's looks becoming the story? They always have been. There's this huge spectrum from condescending pity/joy of her success through bad jokes on late night TV, and I'm pretty sure that 90% of us are on it. And that entire spectrum has not been the struggle she's overcome, but her road to success.