Movie Mom

Movie Mom


Susan Boyle — What Captivates Us?

posted by Nell Minow

Susan Boyle, the middle-aged Scottish youngest of nine, who does not have a job and spent most of her adult years caring for her late mother, sang on a television show last week and has now become a worldwide phenomenon. She does not have a computer and had never heard of YouTube, but her video clip on that site has been watched more than 37 million times. And now she even has a fan page.
She has a lovely, clear voice. And the song she sang, “I Dreamed a Dream” from “Les Miserables,” seemed to define the moment, filled with hope and longing in spite of all obstacles. But what has made her a sensation is the overall surprise of her. My favorite part of the video clip is when the three judges admit that they had judged her based on her sensible shoes, thick brows, and general country bumpkin aura. (Simon pretends that he knew all along she was going to blow everyone away but even he is almost undone by her.)
We all love underdog stories. I think the reason we love Susan Boyle and weep at her performance is not that she surprised us as much as that we would all love to have that moment of triumph over expectations, of being seen for what is most special about us.
Now, inevitably, there is the debate about whether she should change. I imagine the women’s magazines are going crazy right now, their tweezers and highlight foil shaking in their hands, perishing to do a makeover.
The Washington Post’s Robin Givhan says she needs one.

Now that Boyle has become famous — and her fame portends a financial windfall for someone, if not her — the decision is no longer merely a reflection of her desires. Indeed, the wrong decision has the capacity to unravel the centuries-long tradition of fairy tales. In other words, of course Susan Boyle should have a makeover. Isn’t that why fairy godmothers were created?

I usually agree with Givhan, who I think is brilliant about fashion, culture, and semiotics. But this time I am not so sure. She is quick to reassure us that she does not mean Nip/Tuck and Botox.

Boyle, who steps into the spotlight, tweaks our cultural ambivalence about appearance, and wows folks with her talent. And the public flat out goes nuts. Bonkers. People got teary-eyed and goose-pimpled. Boyle would not be mesmerizing if she were not an ugly duckling. Her success is fueled by the fact that everyone assumed she was going to be a loser because she looked like the standard version of one as defined by the collective archives of movies, TV and literature.

Boyle beat the system that rewards the drop-dead gorgeous 10s and ignores the 3s and 4s. And people love her for that. Her rough-cut curls and sensible shoes make them feel virtuous. If she should decide to take designers up on their offer of free flattering frocks, avail herself of a smart new haircut and vigorous eyebrow arching, would she ruin the fun being had by her millions of fans?

The point of a proper makeover, however, is not to look like someone else but the best version of yourself. This is not a recommendation for an “Extreme Makeover,” but rather the Tim Gunn or “What Not to Wear” version. Those are the kind of transformations in which the recipients spend a little time figuring out precisely why they’ve been squeamish about trying to achieve their personal best.

I have no problem saying that this is Susan Boyle’s personal best and that her apparent comfort with herself as she is (did she actually plaster the contestant’s sticker on her chest?) is as appealing as her singing. If the audience thinks of Susan Boyle as an ugly duckling, it isn’t she who needs a makeover. It is us.



  • bette wakefields

    the most heartfelt tearjerker i think ive ever seen she melted the hearts of the critics even simon as well as mine got bless susan boyle

  • Jan Fredericks

    Susan is far from being an ugly duckling. We shouldn’t even be talking about who is beautiful and not to the extent we are.
    She may look ordinary, and have a great personality and voice, but beauty is subjective and ducks are cute anyway!
    I would love to see her cat. She has touched my life in a personal way since we have some things in common, although I don’t have a voice like hers. It’s great to hear about her persistance to become a singer. Good for her. Her life has become her dream.

  • Harry Gilliam

    You are right on Nell. Susan transformed the audience and the judges from cynicism to awe, and wonder and love… literally in the first 3 seconds she sang. I found Robin Givhan’s column trite, and completely missing the point. It is precisely who Susan IS that captivates us. Not who she might or should be.

  • Mandy

    The Lovely Susan Boyle what a whirlwind this story has created in the media across the world. I have read so many stories and peoples perceptions of this truly magnificent woman and her story.
    I had a dream my life would be
    So different from this hell I’m living
    So different now from what it seems
    Now life has killed
    The dream I dreamed.
    After hearing her story when she came to this ending of song you could just feel her pain and emotion of being a lonely person but most happy in her own skin. Then she just blew everyone kisses and walked off the stage and they had to send her back after all the sneers and laughing she got in the beginning she remained so classy and professional. Susan Boyle may not look like a movie star, however she does not need to be the beauty that comes from her heart makes her shine like a bright Star. I hope and pray they do not go to any extreme makeovers with her, but I am sure whatever happens she will handle it with the class, grace and beauty she has so far!!! Susan Boyle YOUR a true Classic Lady do not change!!!!!!!!

  • Pam

    I thought the “surprise” of Susan Boyle belonged to those who believe the false correlation of youth, beauty, and talent. She isn’t young or beautiful (outwardly, by current standards) but she absolutely is talented.
    But I agree — we enjoy her triumph, not because it shows us that anyone can be a winner (anyone as talented as that, maybe), but because she’s so totally herself, was misjudged and is vindicated.

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/ Nell Minow

    Thanks so much for these comments! It is heartwarming to see how Susan Boyle has touched so many people and I am really glad you are on my side re a makeover.

  • Your Name

    I was struck by Susan’s confidence when she walked on the stage and bantered with the judges. Obviously, she can draw on an inner strength and a well developed gift of music to deeply move us. Think of it: a few moments in time, after hours of practice and years of waiting for her chance and… It must be quite rattling to walk out there and be naked except for your talent and all that practice.
    Music is a gift but let us not overlook it is also a vehicle to give confidence to the musician and to powerfully move the listener.
    Thank you Susan you have defied the experts and shown everyone that beauty is much more than a smile, or a silhouette, or a fashion statement. GOOD ON YA !!!

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