When a beautiful, under 30-something sings like an angel, she can become an American Idol. When a dowdy, homely 47-year-old woman sings beautifully, it is headline news. I'm certainly not knocking you-tube sensation, Susan Boyle, who stunned even Simon Cowell with her singing ability on "Britain's Got Talent" last week. She is a great singer and I have watched her performance of "I Dreamed a Dream" several times now.
The problem is that recognition of her talent is directly proportionate to her lack of good looks and youth. What does it say about the civilized world that our expectations for greatness are diminished when people are unattractive and/or old? It's no mystery why American Idol screens out any would-be singers over the age of 30. We are a nation obsessed with youth. But does that mean an American Idol couldn't succeed if she or he were 35 or 47 or 67? I'm willing to bet that in the not too distant future Miss Susan Boyle - though still closer to 50 than 30 - will have artfully plucked eyebrows, a new highlighted hairstyle, trendy black trousers and blouse and lots of makeup. It won't affect her singing ability but will certainly make her look more like a potential star.
The results of this obsession with looks stare back at us from the covers of magazines and from our TV screens. Women of indeterminate age with lips resembling those of guppies, people who smile only with their eyes because the rest of their faces are locked into place, women with husbands the age of their grandfathers. When did looks and age become the bar by which we are each judged? Why have we allowed this to happen and how can we hand this legacy off to our children?
I, for one, believe that every line on my face was hard-won and adds to the character that is me. If Joan Rivers resembled something more human and closer to her age, I would like her just as well. And if Susan Boyle stays just the way she is - overgrown eyebrows and all - she will still sing better than her own idol, Elaine Paige. Talent and intelligence and heart are all internal; they don't rely on plastic surgery to sustain them. Looks fade, the years pass and it is a process that is natural and appropriate. Let's applaud Susan Boyle's talent - not in spite of what she looks like, but because it's an amazing talent.