SUSAN BOYLE

SUSAN BOYLE

The sensation caused by Susan Boyle’s appearance on a British talent show should be embarrassing to more than those judges and that audience who initially dismissed her based on her appearance alone. They didn’t dismiss her because her appearance was somehow exceptional; if they had met her at a backyard party in her village they might not have given her appearance a second thought. Rather, they either assumed from the outset that a person that ordinary, a person of that age, could have nothing to offer in the way of talent, or they assumed that no matter what she had to offer in the way of talent, it couldn’t be enough if she looked like that. The judges and the audience weren’t alone in making such assumptions. They live in a larger world in which uncounted people of enormous talent go unnoticed while mediocrities like Britney Spears make headlines regardless of their lack of artistic gifts.

KATE SMITH

KATE SMITH

The Susan Boyle phenomenon calls to mind the experience of Kate Smith, one of my favorite singers of standards. Early in her career, she had to put up with ridicule, especially “fat girl” jokes, but in the end the public couldn’t ignore her musical prowess. Based on the only thing I’ve heard Boyle sing, she reminds me of Kate Smith in that the power and clarity of her voice are enhanced by her ability to deliver the song. Kate Smith was a favorite among lyricists for that reason, which explains why she introduced more than 650 hit songs during her radio and recording career.

My guess is that we didn’t learn anything – at least, not permanently – from the Susan Boyle incident, but it will be justification enough for her if she flourishes in a mid-life career. I, for one, would love to hear more.

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