Monday, June 1, 2009


If it has anything to do with Scotland, you have my unashamed attention and to the great chagrin and angst of many Family, Friends and Associates, I’m probably going to tell you about it. This time, it’s Scotland and the Lowlands with a twist…

Its just been announced that Susan Boyle took second place in the Britain’s Got Talent (BGT) show that seems to have as many ups and downs as American Idol. While I would have preferred a well deserved win for Susan, perhaps this better punctuates what’s been happening around this story for the last month. Her recent expletive deleted confrontation with a tabloid reporter who according to some sources seemed bent on provoking and harassing Susan may have contributed to her defeat and revealed that she may have some difficulty dealing with what will surely be an ever increasing and intense media attention. She will need help here. I am sure that some folks would like to “help” that reporter who was removed from the Wembley Plaza Hotel in London by police. Susan’s world is changing at supersonic speed…

Once again the story is us – we the people – and how we have reacted to the musical offerings of a seemingly unsophisticated (even mildly retarded) middle aged, plain spoken Scottish Lady who had the stones to get up on a major world stage and innocently strut her stuff. We have forever and a day indelibly indicted ourselves and our superficial perspectives and world with our post performance observations and understandably emotional glorification of this Lady. This whole scenario has turned into the epiphany of the century where red-faced and embarrassed generations have self flagellated themselves into a mass confessional.

For most of her forty eight years Boyle has been comfortable in her own skin, content or at least anesthetized in her little village (no Brigadoon) taking care of herself and until recently her Mom. She has been singing long before her Britain’s Got Talent performance and, yes, she has had voice lessons. Her performance was no surprise to her fellow Blackburn, West Lothians who have listened and appreciated her vocal gifts at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church and the karaoke bar in the Happy Valley Hotel.

Blackburn in the region of West Lothian in the Lowlands of Scotland was known heretofore as the home of the now closed British Leyland plant though it is now the home of Susan Boyle who has gleefully turned the world on its head. Scotland Lives, though she probably cares little about those of us that sprang from that auld sod… West Lothian was the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots and home to Star Trek character USS Enterprise engineer Montgomery Scott (played by Canadian James Doohan) and known to some as The land of the English in the Kingdom of the Scots.

And what of the issue of her “mild retardation” brought up by some - the result of oxygen deprivation during her birth? No doubt some of her “filters” may seem a little compromised as she exuberantly and without seeming restraint expresses herself though all with a refreshing and healthy dose of innocence and humility. She would no doubt join and best Tom Cruise jumping on any couch on any TV set, anywhere. So what? While there are tricks of the trade, Susan appears well capable of memorizing and delivering heroic songs, no small feat for any Mensa.

While Susan inexplicably placed second in the competition – runner up to an exuberant, mostly very young 11 member dance troupe called ''Diversity” that previously won the U.K. Street Dance Championships (what a pedigree) - that says it all. It seemed to me that their participation in this competition was apples and oranges with Boyle and the other singers and that the dance troupe should have been in a different genre. While Diversity is an incredibly talented group they are on a different planet… Like American Idol, and despite very gracious concessions and compliments by Ms. Boyle, there is no doubt that the lesser of the competitors officially won. A grateful, very surprised and ultimately forgettable Diversity said as much themselves. That happens when you put ravenous texting teenagers without boundaries in charge of the voting for their ilk. It becomes a popularity not a talent contest (witness Idol Sanjaya Malakar). I suspect that most of the voters don’t have an appreciation or understanding for Susan’s musical offerings though they did vote Paul Potts the BGT winner in 2007. Bottom line: Paraphrasing W. C. Fields - don’t compete with children and animals.

While most everybody appears fascinated by Susan it seems that many of those same folks aren’t comfortable with her persona and seem to want to make her over. Her frizzy hair, chubby physique, jowly face, caterpillar eyebrows, unkempt cat-lady and dowdy-homely-frumpy-matronly-ordinary appearance (these are all quotes) seems to motivate folks to try and reinvent Susan based on their individual perceptions. Why can’t they just leave her alone to pursue her dreams and inspire those of us that require nothing more than her wonderful voice and sincere personality?

Well, Susan got a makeover of sorts – trimmed her eyebrows and dyed her hair brown. Given her mustache trim she may have disenfranchised a bar owner from New Zealand who contrived the Susan Boyle Cocktail which has a layer of Frangelico on top which leaves drinkers a tantalizing creamy moustache, not unlike milk commercials of old.

Restating the obvious - I’m cynical enough at this point to reflect that it’s all about money even as Simon Cowell will probably sign Susan to a record deal (and that’s OK) and is getting set to personally introduce Susan to America. She will, no doubt, be a big success here and finally realize her ultimate dreams though we wonder who will really be in charge.

Some folks including this writer feel that the producers and directors of Britain’s Got Talent no doubt anticipated the reaction that Boyle’s performance would elicit. They knew that the shock value of her personality and appearance v. her performance would knock everybody’s socks off and they probably cared little for the Human potential of Boyle. The fact that they apparently kept their little secret from the judges is absolutely amazing. Look at the camera placements and the pre and post performance shots. They were milking this phenomenon for all it was worth.

While you can’t always predict levels of performance (witness Susan’s less than stellar start in the second round) they anticipated the reaction that Boyle would probably get notwithstanding her eccentric personality. No, they didn’t manufacture or manipulate, but they did create and exploit the environment that allowed the Susan Boyle phenomenon to take place. That did not diminish the very sincere and visceral reactions and realization of the audience and the viewing public. And all that is probably good for in the best of Ugly Betty times we need to be ultimately reminded that our mostly shallow and superficial values really don’t matter.

I also believe that we can wax philosophic – ad nauseum - about the reaction and its significance on racism, gender politics, hell, even global warming and we will probably put everybody to sleep and lose the real value of this experience.

Lisa Schwarzbaum a founding editor of Entertainment Weekly eloquently opined on Susan, “In our pop-minded culture so lavishly obsessed with packaging — the right face, the right clothes, the right attitudes, the right Facebook posts — the unpackaged artistic power of the unstyled, un-hip, un-kissed Ms. Boyle let me feel, for the duration of one blazing showstopping ballad, the meaning of human grace. She pierced my defenses. She reordered the measure of beauty. And I had no idea until tears sprang how desperately I need that corrective from time to time.” Yes, I cried as well.

Far from the campfire kumbyyas who cry acknowledging the victory of the human spirit over adversity (me too), the reality is that this is not where a gobsmacked Susan Boyle is coming from. She innocently approached us, offered and gave us her gift which we accepted with open arms and probably unpredictably, a guilty conscience.

As we mentioned earlier we are now trying to make her over into something she isn’t and probably doesn’t want to be. Decisions about her and her future from this point are probably going to be made by someone other than Susan. Have we picked the flower only to see it wither and die when we should have left it in the field? Are we doing this for Susan Boyle or to assuage our collective guilt? Hopefully they will recognize her value just as she is and leave her be.

Maybe, just maybe, Susan is here to save us from ourselves and help right a foundering ship… The least we can do is accept and enjoy her gift in the spirit it was offered. And, no, she’s not, “Piers Morgan's ex-nanny's third cousin twice removed.” Funny.


Ned Buxton

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