Innovating Through Artistry

The Susan Boyle phenomenon: redefining beauty, grace, and success?

In Author: Lisa Canning, ENTREPRENEUR THE ARTS, Interesting Articles on April 22, 2009 at 3:10 am

Susan Boyle and this article below touched a raw nerve for me.

What is wrong with our world to judge ones artistic capacity by ones style (or lack there of), or body shape or weight? Many have said about Susan Boyle ” Oh an ugly woman who can sing!” Does this kind of statement not speak to how desperately the world needs to be taught the value of creative self expression and the authenticity required to create artistic mastery? What on earth does appearance have to do with it?

Why is it that becoming a celebrity means shifting your focus on appearance or taking the wrath from the media if you don’t? It is no wonder that most of the world has trouble recognizing the true capacity of the arts to teach, enlighten and change who we can become when all that we as a country focus on is the appearance of it all. It’s not what’s on the inside that matters right?

I believe for many it is not because of the incredible insecurity and fears we hold about our true potential in life. It is the bright light that shines within us that most frightens us, which makes it far easier to focus superficially on others and avoid having to face ourselves.

But you see- here is where the rub comes- if you don’t ever take the time to discover and then share the gifts you have hidden inside of you– who will ever know?

I applaud Susan Boyle and Paul Potts and anyone else like either of them willing to risk sharing their gifts- their true purpose in life- with the world. Susan Boyle’s so called “fumpy” appearance is not what I see when I hear her sing. I see a woman who is allowing her life to be revealed to all who will dare to see and hold her close.

What a brave woman to come as herself to sing. What astonishing wisdom to not get caught up in the trappings of superficial illusions but instead stay true to herself and the richness of her true self expression.

And to you Simon Cowell– your initial reaction to Susan Boyle’s appearance, and attempt to conceal it with your comment at the end of this clip, makes it clear you have little room in your life for emotional intelligence. But that’s Hollywood for you, right?

By Ben Quinn | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
from the April 21, 2009 edition
oboyle_p1LONDON – It was to her elderly mother, sometime before she passed away, that Susan Boyle pledged she would “do something” with her life.

Two years on from that loss, she honored that promise with a now almost legendary appearance on a British television talent show.

A video clip of the Scot winning over skeptical judges and a cynical crowd with a rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream.” from the musical “Les Misérables” has been viewed more than 40 million times, making it one of the most popular YouTube videos ever posted.

The youngest of nine, Ms. Boyle is an unlikely global star. Or is she?

She’s a middle-aged woman from a village called Blackburn in Scotland’s West Lothian region, where she lives alone with her cat, Pebbles. Her unruly hair and spinster image have long attracted taunts from local children, an echo of the bullying she endured as a girl. Several times a week, she serves as a volunteer at Our Lady of Lourdes church, visiting elderly members of the congregation.

The mass media – especially in the United States – are now hugging Boyle close ahead of a second performance (May 23) on the television show “Britain’s Got Talent.”


But her sudden rise to popularity is prompting many commentators, even those not usually noted for their interest in light entertainment, to find a deeper meaning in her performance.

“Boyle let me feel … the meaning of human grace…. She reordered the measure of beauty. And I had no idea until the tears sprang how desperately I need that corrective,” wrote Robert Canfield, a professor of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., in his blog where he typically comments on Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran.

Dr. Canfield says, in response to emailed questions, that Boyle captured “the hopes of a multitude.”

Her performance resonates with millions, he says, because “most of us in our heart of hearts have severe doubts about ourselves.

“So when a Susan Boyle appears on stage before a clearly condescending audience in a society that can read class status in every move, the hairdo, the dress, she appears as a loser. And we feel for her. We see how precarious her position is, how vulnerable she is, and we feel for her,” he writes in his email.

“We can see in her an objectification of what we fear about ourselves. So when she comes forth with that voice, that music – as if we have discovered Judy Garland at the age of 47 – we are thrilled. She’s going to make it, we think. She’s going to win (!). And we unconsciously invest ourselves in her achievement.”


Patricia Williams, a professor of law at Columbia University in New York, likened Boyle’s story to the election of Barack Obama in an op-ed piece for Britain’s Observer newspaper headlined: “I know those sneers. I’ve heard them too.”

“Boyle’s ability to up-end conventional preconceptions is akin to what the ‘black is beautiful’ movement of the 1970s tried to accomplish: a debunking of surface-based biases in favour of deeper commitments to fairness, intelligence, courage, humility, patience, re-examined aesthetics and the willingness to listen,” wrote Professor Williams.

“Dismissing her – or anyone – based on careless expectations about what age or lack of employment supposedly signify is the habit of mind common to all forms of prejudice.”

The Times of London asked Boyle, given how much importance the entertainment industry places on appearance, might she succumb to pressure to have a makeover?

“Maybe I’ll consider a makeover later on,” she told the Times with a laugh. “For now I’m happy the way I am – short and plump. I would not go in for Botox or anything like that. I’m content with the way I look. What’s wrong with looking like Susan Boyle? What’s the matter with that?”


One of Boyle’s fellow Scots, Alison Kennedy, a writer and comedian, says that some cynicism has also emerged around her meteoric rise and who might profit by it. But it’s focused on Simon Cowell, judge, producer and creator of “Britain’s Got Talent.” Yes, the same Simon Cowell on “American Idol.”

Mr. Cowell stands to make a lot of money from Boyle, who he has predicted would have a No. 1 record in the US.

Nevertheless, Ms. Kennedy adds: “People are still pleased for her, and it’s clear that she has a particular talent. People are fond of her, even if they are not fond of Simon Cowell.”

All eyes are now looking to Boyle’s May 23 performance on the talent show, which promises the ultimate winner – the opportunity to perform in front of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II.

Elaine Paige, the singer whom Boyle has said she would like to emulate, has also suggested the two might one day record a duet.

In the meantime, Boyle herself has told reporters camped outside her home that she is “taking it all in my stride.”

“It’s all been complete mayhem, like a whirlwind going like an express train. I never expected all this attention. It’s been indescribable and completely mad. But I could get used to it,” she told the Observer.

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