SUSAN BOYLE: Britains Got Talent 2009 Final

May 31, 2009 § Leave a comment

Britains Got Talent 2009 Final

Susan Boyle in Britains Got Talent 2009 Final

Susan Boyle in Britains Got Talent 2009 as a Contestant

Susan Margaret Boyle, born 1 April 1961, is a Scottish singer who came to public attention when she appeared as a contestant on the third series of Britain’s Got Talent, and ended up the runner up of the 2009 edition of that show.  Boyle became known when she sang “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Misérables in the competition’s first round, first broadcast in the United Kingdom on 11 April 2009.

Boyle attended Edinburgh Acting School and also took part in the Edinburgh Fringe. Prior to her appearance on Britain’s Got Talent, her main experience had come from singing in church and karaoke in the local pubs in her village. She had also tried out several times for My Kind of People.

When she appeared on the Britain’s Got Talent stage, the audience and the judges appeared apprehensive and judgmental of her unpolished appearance. Upon finishing her song, she received a standing ovation from the live audience and unanimous praise from the judges.

The contrast between the audience’s first impression of her when she appeared on stage compared to the ovation she received afterwards triggered global interest. Articles about her appeared in newspapers worldwide, while the numbers who watched videos of her audition have set an online record. Within nine days of her televised debut, videos of her audition, subsequent interviews of her, and her 1999 rendition of “Cry Me a River” had been viewed a combined total of over 100 Million times on the Internet. Websites such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have been crucial in facilitating Boyle’s rapid rise to fame:  On the day following the performance, the YouTube video was the most popular article on Digg.  The same video was judged so popular on Reddit that it was put on the site’s main page.  Within a week, the audition performance had been viewed more than 66 Million times, setting an online record, while on Wikipedia her biographical article attracted nearly half a million page views.  A total of 103 Million video views on 20 different websites was reached within nine days. The Los Angeles Times wrote that her popularity on YouTube may in part be due to the broad range of emotion packed into a short clip which was “perfect for the Internet”.  The popular YouTube video submission of her audition garnered nearly 2.5 Million views in the first 72 hours. She had been viewed by over 103 Million times.  

Simon Cowell is reported to be setting up a contract with Boyle with his Syco Music company label, a subsidiary of Sony Music.

Boyle’s sudden fame drew much commentary on why this story was so widely reported and what it implies, while others drew moral lessons from people’s reactions to her performance.  For instance, writing in The Herald, Collette Douglas-Home described Boyle’s story as a modern parable and a rebuke to people’s tendency to judge others based on their physical appearance.  Similarly, Lisa Schwarzbaum, in an article in Entertainment Weekly, said that Boyle’s performance was particularly moving as it was a victory for talent and artistry in a culture obsessed with physical attractiveness and presentation.

Following Boyle’s rendition of the song judge Amanda Holden remarked upon the audience’s initially cynical attitude, and the subsequent “biggest wake-up call ever” they had received upon hearing her performance.  Echoing Holden’s comments, The Washington Post’s Jeanne McManus said that one of the main sources of drama in talent shows was the collision between performers’ sometimes exaggerated sense of self-worth and the opinions and reactions of their audience.  In Boyle’s case, McManus believed that her initial demeanour and homely appearance caused the judges and audience to be “waiting for her to squawk like a duck”. The New York’s Daily News said that it was this stark contrast between the audience’s low expectations and the quality of her singing that made Boyle’s performance such an engaging piece of television. This article also noted that the idea of an underdog being ridiculed or humiliated but then enjoying an unexpected triumph is a common trope in literature and that this is why, when this theme made its unscripted appearance in reality television, it created an enduring and powerful effect.

Although the audience’s reaction was unscripted, it may have been anticipated. Mark Blankenship of the The Huffington Post noted that the producers of the show would have been aware of the potential of this story arc, by deliberately presenting Boyle in a manner that would enhance this initial reaction.  He does note, however, that “as fabricated as it is, her on-camera arc is undeniably moving”.  The fact that Boyle is in her forties has also been cited as contributing to this strong emotional impact. In another Huffington Post article, Letty Cottin Pogrebin wrote that although people may “weep for the years of wasted talent”, Boyle’s performance was a triumph for “women of a certain age” over a youth culture that often dismisses middle-aged women.

Tanya Gold wrote in The Guardian that the difference between Boyle’s hostile reception and the more neutral response to Paul Potts in his first audition reflected society’s expectation that women be both good-looking and talented, with no such expectation existing for men.  In a similar vein, Mary Elizabeth Williams wrote on that Boyle’s sudden fame came from her ability to remind her audience that, like them, she was a normal, flawed and vulnerable person, familiar with disappointment and mockery, but who nevertheless has the determination to fight for her dream.  R.M. Campbell, music critic for The Gathering Note compared her to Ella Fitzgerald, in that “[… it’s] really, really hard to make a career if a woman isn’t attractive. The very fact that she is ordinary could help in improving her future success.”  Los Angeles vocal coach Eric Vetro stated “She’s an everywoman as opposed to an untouchable fantasy goddess, so maybe that’s why people react to her. They say, ‘She’s one of us, but look how talented she is.’ ”

Several media sources have commented that Boyle’s success seemed to have particular resonance in the United States.  A US entertainment correspondent was quoted in The Scotsman comparing Boyle’s story to the American Dream, as representing talent overcoming adversity and poverty. The Associated Press described this as Boyle’s “hardscrabble story”, dwelling on her modest lifestyle and what they saw as urban deprivation in her home town.  Similarly, The Independent New York correspondent David Usborne wrote that America is a country that will always respond to “the fairy tale where the apparently unprepossessing suddenly becomes pretty, from Shrek to My Fair Lady.”


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