If you own a television or computer, you caught wind of the Susan Boyle story last week. A 47 year old Scottish lady gets the chance to sing for her life on Britain’s Got Talent, and, it turns out, she’s got quite the voice. My favorite Broadway play is Les Miserables (it’s fabulous; put it on your must see list if you haven’t), and so I was excited to see what Susan Boyle had to offer with I Dreamed a Dream. What I wasn’t prepared for was how the audience reacted to her initially. I almost had to turn the video off before even getting to the clip where she sang because watching the way Ms. Boyle was judged before even sharing her talent was almost indigestible to me. The clip has now gone viral and millions have seen it, surely cheering Ms. Boyle all the way.
What I am curious about, though, isn’t about Ms. Boyle’s life back in the Scottish village and what she thinks of winning people over– because, to be honest, I find the media hoopla surrounding Ms. Boyle a bit condescending. It feels a little “you didn’t look like we thought you should and sound like we think you shouldn’t and that’s amazing so let’s dwell on how unbelievable it is that you can sing like that.” I do get why everyday people- like me and, maybe, you- go to You Tube over and over again to see the video. We’ve all felt like Susan Boyle at some time or other and it’s like seeing the bully finally get taken down for what we know to be inherently true. My friend, Jill, who is way smart, brought up this point when we were talking about that whole thing and I found it so interesting, “While I watched the clip, I couldn’t help but think about the particular song she was singing. These lines made me cry: But the tigers come at night/ with their voices soft as thunder/ as they tear your hope apart/ and they turn your dream to shame. I kept thinking about how this didn’t feel like a random song, but it was her song to this audience, media, etc.” Yeah, Jill’s smart. Fortunately, she doesn’t have a blog so you can’t leave mine for hers.
All this said, I found Susan Boyle’s confidence all along, her passion, her good humor, her pluck, and her immeasurable joy in singing really contagious. And while I am not curious about Boyle’s life back in the village and how she feels about the reaction she’s receiving (I just want to hear her sing again), I am curious about the people in that audience– the ones showed having such a negative reaction to Ms. Boyle based on sight when she walked onto the stage and said she wanted her chance. How has their thinking changed since seeing what they saw in person, hearing what they heard, and knowing the sounds and faces and judgments they made in that auditorium? Are they less quick to judge? Do they now understand that beauty comes in a far more diverse package than the one labeled blond, young, tan, tall, and thin? Are they more willing to give people the benefit of the doubt? Do they offer grace more? Because it’s not enough for us to get to a place in the world where we are willing to cheer the underdog on once they impress us, willing to have exceptions to the rule once they prove their worthiness of being an exception. Really, the place we need to get to is one where we don’t assign value to someone– underdog or topdog value– based on whether or not their appearance fits into a box of our individual understanding and appreciation, the place we need to live in is one that holds its arms wide open for anyone’s possibility, a place where there are no rules based on universal standards of beauty. Because it really just doesn’t work like that. Beauty, as we viscerally know—which is why millions of us have connected with this video–, does not fit into just one box. It’s bigger, more dramatic, more marvelous, more encompassing than that, and all of us, inherently, have it.