I dreamed a dream

Watch this video of  Susan Boyle, a woman with a voice that brought tears to my eyes.  My surprise at her gift made me think very hard about my own implicit assumptions about age and beauty.  You can go here to watch it or here:

So far it has been viewed more than 3.5 million times and received more than 20,000 comments.  What do you think?

24 thoughts on “I dreamed a dream

  1. Amazing voice, even on the poor sound of an unassisted computer. I did see the audience and judges were very surprised, but honestly, I’m not sure exactly why. She wouldn’t be such a surprising presence in a choir, at least an English choir. It would be wonderful to hear a lead singer in a choir with such a voice, but it wouldn’t be so shocking. One wouldn’t be rethinking how one thought of age and beauty, would one? Maybe I’m just wrong…

    So I’m wondering what I’m not getting here. It may be that i’m old enough that she doesn’t look particularly old to me?

  2. Isn’t it to do with the way that most of the people on today’s talent shows tend to be young and conventionally attractive (I’m thinking of shows like Pop Idol)? If one watches a lot of talent shows, one might then forget that older, non-conventionally attractive people have talent too.

  3. yes, i’m with jj and it sounds like maybe for the same reason: i’ve sung in a few choirs in my time. if you’re around choral singing (by real people) at all, you know that the pretty faces don’t often go with the pretty voices. (tho btw, it’s not as if this woman is some sort of troll. she’s not a super model, but if you did up her hair, etc, like tv people do, she wouldn’t really stand out.) maybe also i’m not very familiar with the talent show schtick, and as you say, monkey, there is surely a formula to these that one expects not to be broken.

  4. I think what I liked was watching her bring the house down after seeing everyone be so contemptuous. (Though I also liked her quietly confident manner while they were being that way.) But then I was a little bit disturbed by the way they interacted with her– they didn’t even seem remotely ashamed of having been so dismissive.

  5. It is nice to see so many choir singers in the group, me too, alto. What grabbed me was not only the talent, but the realization that I know that great voices come in a wide variety of bodies, but that knowledge slipped away when I was confronted with someone in a non traditional TV singer’s body.

    On a second viewing, the tape showed audience members rolling their eyes, and the dismissive contempt hit me very hard.

    Even so, the shock at her success really bothered me. I know that on TV talent reality shows one expects some degree of failure. But the surprise at this woman’s talent seemed to me to be an expression of ageism, classism, and for lack of a better word ‘beautyism.’

    It was sort of heartening to see the judges address this. It was marvelous to see her bring the house down. And interesting that the commentators were willing to call it like they saw it ‘everyone was against you,’ and that Boyle was ‘a wake up call’.

  6. One thing that bothers me is that the world’s surprised reaction to this singer is a sign of how high the beauty bar has been placed at this point. Ms. Boyle is, in my opinion, average looking and average-aged. Yet the implication of many people’s surprise is that she is beyond the pale in looks and age. WTF? TV and movies have completely skewed our perceptions of what’s attractive.

  7. jender: yes, i couldn’t help watching the discussion after and thinking, if it were me, i would’ve started crying. even tho what they were saying was ‘we were wrong’. but it was more than that: it was ‘we were wrong to think that just because YOU’RE VERY UGLY you wouldn’t be able to sing’. it would’ve totally ruined the experience of winning, for me, to be told in front of thousands of people that i was a very good singer DESPITE BEING VERY UGLY. (and again, that woman simply _wasn’t_ _that_ ugly!)

  8. I don’t believe the judges reactions. That this is sooo shocking. the guy who wone Britain’s got Talent 1 was an awkward telephone salesman with bad teeth who could really sing.

    its the same judges as it was then, they just act shocked every time they see someone talented because it makes good TV.

    It was shocking then too. is it more shocking because women as they age out of desirability are seen as more worthless? Or is it just good TV to humiliate people in general? I’m not sure.

  9. oh god, nakedthoughts, that one is terrible too! ‘lump of coal that’s going to turn into a diamond’! ‘frog into a prince’! this just reinforces my resolve never to start watching these talent competitions. what an awful way to treat a fellow human!

  10. I haven’t watched TV in yonks, and I never watched such a talent show. I think Susan’s got a very good voice and she stays wonderfully on key, but if they are this flabbergasted about a very good voice, there must be quite some eyewateringly mediocre stuff in those shows?

    Indeed she’s not much of a looker, but she looks pleasant to me, it seems just that we’re not used to seeing women in public anymore who don’t have plucked eyebrows, expert haircuts and a good bra and things like that. The high heels seem a bit anamolous with aforementioned and the less than elegant dress, though, does make me wonder if this really is as authentic as it looks.

    I think what amy says about TV and movies skewing our perception is certainly true, but printed matter might even be worse. It’s hard to find a picture of a woman that’s not been photoshopped in magazines. All skins are smoothed, no zits or discolourations in sight. That doesn’t only go for men’s magazines. It seriously bothers me.

    *** off topic… cool, I am a mezzo soprano in a chamber choir :D

  11. Very true — magazines and the web are at least as bad. It’s amazing to me to see what’s expected these days for counting as attractive (and to count as “taking care of yourself”). A lot of my female students are using student loan money to pay for the mandatory three-stage hair coloring, weekly manicures, tanning, facials, etc. Lord only knows how many have had plastic surgery. Spa treatments, botox, and liposuction are practically de rigueur for middle-aged women these days. Sometimes I like to watch older TV shows, like Barney Miller and MASH from the 70’s, and it’s stunning to see how much more natural and flawed actresses looked then. Also, much more modestly dressed. On the other hand, standards of beauty in the 30’s and 40’s were also very high — I can’t imagine how much time those elaborate hairstyles must have taken. Maybe the 60’s and 70’s were just a momentary blip when women were actually allowed to look like humans.

  12. Sssooo weird, so scary that this “shocking” story even makes “network news” in the U.S. I agree with extendedlp, that what they were saying was “we were wrong to think that just because [we think] YOU’RE VERY UGLY you wouldn’t be able to sing.” I don’t watch talent shows, and only saw this because of abovementioned network TV news (which I watch from NZ). Felt the whole thing was a ghastly set-up where the usual “beautiful” blonde gets to pronounce on someone who isn’t a “beautiful” blonde and everyone gets to feel like they just threw a few dollars into the panhandler’s cap. The whole thing (at least ABC News’s version of it anyway) disgusted me, which also means it didn’t come close to prompting a tear. More a sigh at it being a slight variation on an old theme: If one [black, female, differently abled, non-“beautiful”, working class, etc.] person can make it as a [PM, talent show winner, business exec, etc.] then any of you [black, female, etc.] people can make it, not to mention the “aren’t we great and big-hearted, and open-minded” factor. Hmmm, I think I might be bitter. A friend of mine here in New Zealand, a powerful, brilliant woman who has worked internationally for nuclear disarmament was recently mocked on TV by the host of a morning “news” show for her facial hair (though she had gone on the show to talk about the decision by the French to compensate SOME of its South Pacific nuclear testing victims). If you can bear it, a version of this story is here

  13. capitver, I at least will wait for a calm moment to read it.

    People might like to know that she lives alone with her cat; perhaps we can get the cat on one Sunday.

  14. When I watched it, I had the impression that people were reacting more to her general small-town awkwardness and social eccentricity (never been kissed at that age, etc.) than her age or her looks per se. It does seem likely that the typical performer on the show is much younger and more concerned with their appearance, though, so a normal-looking 47-year-old probably seemed pretty incongruous.

  15. She is a woman who “dares” show up in TV with a round waistline and non-conformist style. Is there room for her? Well, at the cost of being object of rude and unfair treatment. That is the traditional price for not-conforming to the dominant pattern — which is usually not by choice, but corresponds to the simple fact that there is diversity. Sometimes, you just dont fit, no matter how hard you try.

    I am glad that the tyranny of idiocy was bent a little. I am sad that it was only a little.

    I think that this type of tyranny can be counteracted by actual actions of authenticity and independence — of course, that takes a lot of courage, because the tyranny of domination strikes back.

    So, my solidarity with the millions of people who everyday carry out the acts of courage of insisting in being true to themselves.


  16. I wouldn’t be over-impressed with the “shock” – don’t forget these shows are edited and done so to create as much drama as possible. I’m more disturbed by Simon Cowell’s tendency to call talented women “you little tiger” (he does that quite often) – what exactly is that supposed to mean?

  17. I suppose as the show continues we can expect to see her being made over, and discovering the ‘real’ more glamourous S.Boyle ‘underneath’? Groan…

  18. “Oh god, it can sing!” When TV serves something would-be-controversial within the values it created and does it on the silver plate, this is what happens. I mean – of course she can sing – she is pretty good, but when I listened to her performance for the first time, I wasn’t impressed, maybe because I did it without watching the video. They create this fuss about everything to get their sensation, sort of sick if you ask me… and maybe I am doing the same thing right now…

  19. Right. It’s definitely interesting to think of how people would have reacted if it had turned out that this woman actually couldn’t sing; because if what’s objectionable is that the judges assumed as much simply on the basis on her looks, well, that’s happened several times in the past. (It’s just that those people didn’t turn out to be talented–so it didn’t seem as egregious?)

    See, e.g.

  20. We do have the sense that the reactions are predictable, but the fate of William Hung is interesting. Here’s his audition. Somehow, however, the TV audience really backed him. The somewhat cynical wiki entry comments:

    Hung rapidly gained a cult following. A William Hung fan site, set up by realtor Don Chin and his wife Laura, recorded over four million hits within its first week. Hung subsequently appeared on several television programs including Jimmy Kimmel Live!, On Air with Ryan Seacrest, Entertainment Tonight, The George Lopez Show, The Late Show With David Letterman, Countdown with Keith Olbermann, The Howard Stern Radio Show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Dateline NBC, Arrested Development and CBS’s The Early Show. Hung was featured in several national magazines and newspapers; he was parodied on Saturday Night Live and appeared on Celebrity Deathmatch. He was reportedly invited to perform at MTV’s Asia Awards held in mid-February. Remixes of Hung’s audition performance topped song request lists at a number of radio stations. An online petition to get Hung back to American Idol included more than 100,000 signatures by late February. Hung was brought back to American Idol as part of a mid-season special titled Uncut, Uncensored and Untalented, airing March 1, 2004. The special documented what it was like to experience the audition process and, in Hung’s case, emerge as an inadvertent celebrity.

  21. Yep stoat, here you go, not been able to find that yet in the british media mentioned in this Dutch article…
    It says she’s getting a make over (hair, teeth, clothes…), and that the jury member Amanda isn’t happy with that, because Susan really should remain whom she is.

    I had my teeth fixed, does that mean I am no longer who I am?
    oh no!

  22. Well here is the next episode. Bad start. I still think she has a nice voice, though. And I still think she looks like a nice person. Oh well.

Comments are closed.