Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Why Susan Boyle won't (and shouldn't) win Britain's Got Talent

There can't be many people who are unaware of Susan Boyle. Type her name into Google and you'll find 7,270,000 results related to this 'singing sensation' (Times Online). The single, 47 year old woman from Blackburn has taken the world by storm since her first appearance on Britain's Got Talent on the 11th of May.

Susan's first rendition of 'I Dreamed a Dream' from Les Miserables shocked the studio audience, the judges and viewers at home after she walked on the stage, wiggled her wide, middle-aged hips and proclaimed that she'd 'never been kissed'.

The introduction pieces to camera just before venturing on stage clearly set up viewers with preconceived ideas; cute kids and young adults with sob stories are almost definitely excellent and get the necessary 'yeses', whilst the old and middle-aged are mocked with clownish music and shots of them saying how 'this is their dream', telling Ant and Dec how brilliant they are and predicting victory.

Susan's introduction immediately fell into the 'sad case' category as we listened to comedic music playing over shots of her munching a sandwich and standing awkwardly backstage as she waited for her cue. Viewers looked forward to another freak show to laugh at as she walked on the stage in her drab, gold dress, ungroomed eyebrows and bird's nest hair.

With Simon calling her 'darling', we could be forgiven for thinking that this would be another deluded contestant to provide hilarity in between the good acts; after all, she'd declared that she'd 'make that audience rock', and as we've seen before, those with too much confidence often fall flat on stage.

Well, we were wrong. In contrast to her appearances, Susan did have talent indeed. She wowed everyone and was given a standing ovation.

Susan now has a fan site (www.susan-boyle.com) and has been name-checked by Homer Simpson, who marked her as 'a great singer'; one he'd aspire to. She even appeared across the pond on Oprah Winfrey's show, where she twirled for America.

She's hounded by paparazzi and over the last six weeks, the tabloid newspapers have documented her transformation from 'hairy angel' to coiffed and made-up woman about town.

So why were people so inspired by Susan? Everyone knows these are hard times; people are tightening their belts and spending less on entertainment and grooming. Perhaps the two activities of personal grooming and television, when negatively correlated, have produced the Susan Boyle effect? The more time we spend at home, watching reality television, the less time we spend out of the house and the less time we take to dress up and put our slap on. Perhaps we appreciated the every-woman quality of this anti-narcissist Scottish woman and the shock of a beautiful voice resonating through the lungs of a - let's face it - rotund, hirsute woman, made us realise that there's more to life than how we look. Don't judge a book by its cover: beauty is only skin deep.

OK, enough of the clich├ęs. Yes, it's true that Susan Boyle astounded us for all the wrong reasons and that's not really a good thing, but let's be realistic. Susan isn't going to win Britain's Got Talent, despite the hype, or, in fact, because of it.

Take away the judges, the lights and the screaming audience whose reactions are ordained by crew members holding up signs, take away Ant and Dec and the whole competition, and what are you left with?

Close your eyes and listen to both of Susan's songs. Try to forget her appearances on the news, in the papers and her mention in The Simpsons.

First audition (YouTube embedding disabled by request).

What do you hear? A mediocre singer, that's what you hear. Susan's voice isn't special and it's not particularly strong. If Susan Boyle had been on the X-Factor she'd have been out before boot camp. If she'd been a faintly attractive 30 year old, she'd have been kicked out before the semi-finals. When you boil it down (pun fully intended), the only reason she's still in this competition is because Susan is unattractive.

I don't expect you to agree with me; after all, everyone is talking about her winning the series and she's a topic of conversation all over the world. Twitter even recommended her as a search topic in my side-bar on Sunday night. On clicking, I found Twitterers extolling her virtues and posting YouTube videos of her semi-final rendition of 'Memory' from Cats.

So why don't I agree that she'll win? For the same reasons that she's become so famous - her looks.

We like our celebrities to fall into one or more of the following categories; they must be beautiful, like Angelina Jolie or Catherine Zeta-Jones, intelligent and talented like Stephen Fry or Judie Dench, or inspirational, like Richard Branson.

Unfortunately, Susan doesn't fit into any of these. We don't want our celebrities to be normal, every-man types, we want them to be someone we aspire to. Whether it's striving to have hair by L'Oreal like Eva Longoria, acting talent like Anthony Hopkins or the charisma of the late Steve Irwin, they have to be exceptional in some way.

Susan isn't exceptional enough to make money for Syco, Simon Cowell's record label. After the hype has died down, where does Susan go from there? Who is the target audience for her CD and tour? What kind of shows will she appear on to plug her new album of Elaine Paige covers? I can't imagine her being a hit on Loose Women or the kind of guest Jonathan Ross would deign to interview on a Friday night. What would they talk about?

Ms Boyle wouldn't be the first overnight success to be forgotten in 12 months' time. Where is Steve Brookstein, the first winner of the X-Factor? After 12 weeks he lost his record deal, worth £1m, and now sings on ferries. He got 800,000 more votes than this year's winner, Alexandra Burke, but he just wasn't marketable enough. Should Steve's musical demise be a warning to Susan? I think so.

**EDIT** - I know where Steve Brookstein is now - being interviewed on Sky News regarding Susan's four letter tirade against Piers Morgan's praise of Shaheen
Jafargholi. ***

No, Susan won't win. Her celebrity brings viewers and promotes both ITV and Britain's Got Talent, but she's just not marketable enough.

The very thing that made her famous will be her downfall. I just hope that Susan hasn't gotten too caught up in the hype herself. After all, Pebbles the cat as an audience just isn't the same as the Royal family.

*EDIT* - it seems that I'm not the only one who doesn't rate Susan.

So, what do you think? Will I be proven spectacularly wrong tonight, having to retract this article and erase all knowledge of it? If she does win, where does she go from there? Feel free to lambast me in the comments section below....


  1. I recommend listening to her first appearance without the crowd noise: http://snipurl.com/gzw4v

  2. It's now 24th June and I've only just gate-crashed your article.

    You've been proved right. I think your analysis was sound and well presented. Susan Boyle has already failed to appear in three or four scheduled shows. She may never be strong enough, mentally and physically, to stand up to the stress and pressure.

    I feel a little sorry for her. She has, for years, had this craving to be a pro singer. I was happy for her when she made such an impression with her Dreamed a Dream song.

    I'd seen an earlier youtube item of her being on that awful M. Barrymore show where he was trying to be "funny" as this poor woman was hoping to be 'discovered' as a singer.

    Now that she has become world-famous I wonder how long she will last. She's had far more than the standard fifteen minutes of fame. Her journey is now ended. Perhaps she was happier on the journey.

    I hope she can survive what might prove to be the hardest part of her life.