For two days I contemplated the phenomenon that is Susan Boyle. As nearly everyone must know by now, Boyle is the Scottish singer who blew away the judges, the audience -- and by the millions of YouTube hits -- much of the world with her performance on the "Britain's Got Talent" television program.
Susan Boyle's performance is not the entire story, however. She's had her magnificent voice since she was a young girl. We are the story because of our reaction to her.
Watch the seven-minute YouTube video to get the full impact. One sees two young men assisting Susan backstage. We quickly size her up: a nearly 48-year-old woman with graying hair, a dress that looks as if it might have been purchased at the British equivalent of Wal-Mart hugging a body that even she described as "like a garage." Frumpy is the word that first comes to mind.
As she walks on stage, the condescension is as thick as a London fog. The judges are Piers Morgan, a former tabloid newspaper editor, the irritating Simon Cowell, the show's creator and also the co-host on America's talent reality show "American Idol," and Amanda Holden, a beautiful, blonde English actress. The message they send with their facial expressions and body language is reinforced by cutaway shots of the audience: What are you doing here? Shouldn't you be mopping the stage instead of singing on it?
Cowell asks her to share her dream. Boyle says she wants to be like the English musical theater legend Elaine Paige. Cowell seems to struggle to hide his disdain, as if to say, "yes, and I'd like to be prime minister." He asks her what she intends to sing and she announces, "I Dreamed a Dream" from "Les Miserables." One of the judges is heard to mutter; "a difficult song."
The music begins and not 12 bars elapse before a stunned audience erupts in applause. All those hypocrites who thought nothing good could come from this dowdy woman because our narcissistic culture has taught us that the only thing that matters is beauty, not depth of character, suddenly want to embrace what seconds ago they had instinctively rejected.
More music, more words and the audience is on its feet cheering. Slowly, the gorgeous Amanda Holden rises to applaud and the contrast could not be starker. Two women are standing, one the incarnation of all we define as beautiful, the other exuding a depth of beauty that Holden and the entire audience wishes it possessed. The faux beauty is paying tribute to the reality.
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