Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Rachel Thebault Headshot

I Just Don't Get the Big Deal with Susan Boyle

Posted: Updated:

I JUST DON'T GET THE BIG DEAL WITH SUSAN BOYLE. I watched the video on YouTube. In case you haven't seen it (but almost everyone I know has), it's a clip from the British TV show Britain's Got Talent (which is, from what I can tell, just a televised talent show, with Simon Cowell as the head judge.) It starts with the pre-performance interview showing a small-town, homely 40-something woman, mentioning that she's never been kissed--Susan Boyle.

She waddles out on stage, in a frumpy, awkward-length dress. For the next few minutes, Simon Cowell and the other two judges make snarky remarks about how simple and unattractive she is (most of which seem to go over her head). It's uncomfortably obnoxious. She mentions she wants to be like some singer, who I can only assume is a famous British soprano, and states that she's going to sing "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Miserables. (Although, with her Cockney accent, I didn't realize what she said until she actually started singing.) The mere fact that I was viewing this on YouTube made me certain her performance would either end in Will Hung notoriety or she would do an excellent job.

She did an excellent job. Susan Boyle has a beautiful voice. So? Nothing about this performance compelled me to forward the video to all my friends or join her Facebook fan page (which has over 1.4 MILLION members).

Yes, I thought she was really good, but even as I watched the reaction of the judges and audience, I thought surely I was missing something. The audience members are visibly moved. The female judge gives her a standing ovation. (Ostensibly, just to show off how comparatively well-dressed and attractive she is.) Even stone-cold Simon Cowell is brought to tears. So what's the big deal? What am I missing? Are unattractive people not supposed to be able to sing?

So I went to her Facebook fan page (which many of my friends have joined--more than I care to admit), to figure out what some of her fans were saying:

"You gave the world a wake up call." - Really?

"Please don't let yourself and your wonderful personality be spoiled by the TV giants." - I agree, she has an endearing, happy-go-lucky personality, but she's the phenom she is right now because the TV giants put her on TV in the first place!

"You give us old gals inspiration." - OK, this one I get. I'm sure there are a lot of women (and men) out there who would love to get up on stage, belt out their favorite show-tune, and really stick it to Simon Cowell. It takes a lot of courage. It takes more courage for those of us who have average or below-average singing voices. Don't you think Susan Boyle had an inkling of an idea of the kind of voice she has? How much courage does it really take if you have a voice like that?

"The best I have ever heard." - Best what? Best singer? EVER? If you heard her on the radio, I'm sure you would love her voice, but I challenge that you'd deem her the BEST SINGER EVER. What about Aretha Franklin, Barbara Streisand, or Bette Midler? (Whose Facebook fan pages have only 15,000, 3,600, and 3,000 members, respectively) They are all lovely women, but none of them are "classic" beauties, and I'm guessing each of them could sing the pants off Susan Boyle.

It's really Simon Cowell and his co-producers that are the geniuses behind this. Don't you think they knew what they were doing when they played down her stage makeup, didn't pluck her eyebrows or do her hair, encouraged the judges to let loose on her with their questioning? They wanted to set her up to fail, so that everyone would be "shocked" when she didn't. This led to the viral marketing campaign, her millions of fans, and, I'm sure, countless new viewers who will tune in to see how she fares in the rest of the competition. Which all mean one thing: BIG bucks for Britain's Got Talent.

I still don't get it. Yeah, yeah, yeah, she had the courage to follow through with one of her dreams. That's an important message, but there are many people who inspire me to do that all the time. Isn't the real message here to always under-promise and over-deliver? She was "packaged" in a way that makes you assume mediocrity at best. So good for the producers who masterfully exploited her looks and our emotions! And shame on us for being surprised that someone who looks like that could have a nice voice.