Why Susan Boyle is so popular

From Mark Blankenship, here is one stab at the question:

No matter how much we mock those we consider beneath us, it's much more satisfying to be reminded that everyone has dignity.

That's because when we laugh at someone for being a freak, we're
laughing out of fear. We're laughing because we want to prove that we
are not like that loser over there. If we can shame the people who don't belong, then we can prove that we do.

When we embrace an outsider, though, we're paving the way
for our own acceptance in the future. Eventually, we'll all feel like
outcasts, and none of us wants to be laughed at. The Susan Boyle Story
suggests we won't be. Instead of fearing for our own eventual shame, we
can count on society to hear what's beautiful in us. We can trust that
if we just show our true selves, we will be embraced.

Whether or not that moral is true in the real world, it's alluringly
true in the Susan Boyle Story. By participating in the narrative that
television has constructed for her, by cheering her on and watching her
video over and over, we can not only feel good about graciously
welcoming an outsider, but also feel relief for helping create a world
that will someday welcome us.

I thank Mary Anne Sieghart, at TheBrowser, for the pointer.


This whole thing is mildly disgusting. You never read anything giving her true respect for her talent. The whole flurry about her is still disdainful at its core - "we welcome her." Her ugliness isn't being overlooked; it's being spun. Until her looks and persona become interesting trivia, as opposed to crucial to her entertainment value, this is all still bigotry.

This seems somewhat overdone. This woman has a truly extraordinary voice. We treasure her for the same reason we treasure any talent--because it's very, very valuable. I can't even follow Blankenship's attempt at pop-psychology.

That analysis seems spot on.

Oh, almost forgot... one more thing, a rather large element of the female population is almost violently opposed to other attractive females. This works in Boyle's benefit. This effect counts for part of Opra's enormous popularity among women. However, if Boyle was talentless it wouldn't be enough, but she is extremely talented, so it works out.

she gives hope that it's really not too late to become the person that you always wanted to be.

Susan Boyle is 100% black swan.. some say ugly duckling but that misses the point (more at the URL)...

It's bigger than just the talent and the looks .. the age plays a major role, glad to see she finally decided to put herself out there and grab an opportunity.. people love the underdog..

athleas, your claim that, "better voices than Boyle's can be found in a thousand choirs and amateur theatricals" is fatuous. She has a better natural tone and clarity of voice than most of the singers at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, which I attend regularly. Many well qualified people, including some opera critics, have praised her talent.

If you can't see the fundamental difference between all the other American Idol trash and this, you not only have a tin ear, but a blindness to cultural nuance. Well nuance is hardly the word, this event is a slap across the face for the recent reality show genre.

PS. To stick up for my country, though it's not really anything to me proud of, the history of these shows is thus. The first of the current wave of talent shows was Pop Idol, on British television. American Idol is a knock off of the British version, not the other way round. The "Got Talent" franchise (American, British and many others) was created by Simon Cowell, who is British.

Susan Boyle has a phenomenal voice but there's no doubt that it's the whole "cinderella story" aspect of it that draws people in. Here's a really good video i found today on Susan Boyle:


Wait a sec, why do we like the videos of "Flawless," Paul Potts, Andrew Johnston as compared to all the response videos people make in their dens? Why do Andrew Johnston and Bianca Ryan give me the same feeling, despite being quite attractive. It's not about Susan Boyle's appearance, although that is just another brick in the wall.

An unpackaged talent gets in front of a thousand people and knocks their socks off. Against the odds, their dreams might come true. The gatekeeper system of talent evaluation made sense in the past, but also could be abused. Now we don't need it anymore. Take your case directly to the people. It struck me this is just the "white" version of The Apollo. Simon Cowell is an innovator and yes, a copycat. We like talent and appreciate justice. Boyle's performance is overrated (that's not a criticism, it's a fact, 37 million hits, how could it not be overrated?), but quite good. The thing is it was unexpected, but she's an amateur and all she asked for was the opportunity. That's the whole point of the show. These people don't normally win. We got to see this one win. Without the visibility, she wouldn't have won. That's 95% of it and maybe 5% or less is this other psycho-babble.

Who the hell is Susan Boyle?

I love that this was so quickly spun into a way of looking down on Obama voters. bravo, sir!

To those suggesting that this might be more manufactured than anything else, someone uncovered an amateur recording Boyle made about ten years ago of Cry Me a River.

One thing about her story and how much it appeals and how great her voice is and blah blah blah is the fact that she is not completely without vocal training. I can't remember off-hand where I heard about it, but while she's no pop tart with Autotune to bring her voice up to a vacuously attractive body, she's also not some rube who always just sang in her church choir without any exposure to formal training. While natural talent is great, you can tell from watching the way she sang that she has had some voice training, however informal it may have been it was more than just her singing all on her own from childhood or something of that sort.

Sounds like a pretty narcissistic take, if you ask me. It's really all about us?
Frankly I'm getting tired of hearing analysis of why people love this clip. Is it not enough to be watching a humble, unassuming lady, who has been beset by misfortune in the past, overcome prejudice and achieve her dream right then and there? That she is singing such an appropriate song, with which she clearly identifies, only adds to the moment. Of course there are cynics who say this has to be contrived, and it's possible, but there is no evidence to support such an assertion, and should any arise, it is clearly over for that show.
I would say that cynicism is often just an attempt to obsure naivity, and to doubt that a moment like this could be real only reveals your own prejudice, that a seemingly average woman could not so thoroughly stun an audience, clearly comprised of the most thoughtful, open-minded, individuals.

Where would Susan Boyle be today if she didn't have that 'voice'?

I agree with the assessment that the TV performance was in some sense a setup. In addition to the points above,
- the camerawork is too apropos to the narrative to be an accident
- Simon Cowell obviously knew what would happen (you can see him hamming it up, rolling his eyes and then raising his eyebrows)
- there is a preaudition phase to even get on the show. Obviously, someone would have seen her singing there and realized the potential for just the kind of story they showed us.

But I'd say that people who raise this as some sort of objection are really expecting too much authenticity from 'reality TV'. *Of course* the storylines are manipulated; what kind of naif are you?
In the end, the story is moving, and the dorkiness and virtuosity that are its foundation are real enough. It works for me.

First off, your not just listening to Susan Boyle on the radio. Your watching a theatrical production a la American Idol. In any visual media Mirror Neurons play a big part. (see V. S. Ramachandran on Mirror Neurons)

Those Mirror Neurons are what make you laugh or cry during a movie. You just can't hold back those tears. Only thing is that some of us have better authenticity detectors than others. When's the last time you heard Les Miserable, Miss Siagon or any of the dreck that Andrew Lloyd Weber puts out on a Classical Music station?

The answer is never. Because people listening to classical music can in an instant tell the difference between a musical score by Puccini and "I dreamed a dream" . But how can people do that you might ask? Via the same mechanism that Niko Taubum discovered would make a chick peck more at his mothers bill by enlarging the red spot on the beak. Niko termed this super Phenomenal stimuli. It's just evolution stochastically scaling it self up to the preferred.

(As a side thought. I "dream a dream" the masses of Mum Puppets would catch wind of the above paragraph and wouldn't be subject to their overlords status anomalies so i wouldn't have to look at another piece of Post Modern art or architecture. )

Susan Boyle comes off as authentic in the context of the staged production of Britains got talent. And as Nicholas Taleb would say in the modern world where technology makes for enormous scalablity where the 4 the best opera tenor is not even known, the distinction between the 4th and the 400th best will be unperceivable.

In that light, why not Susan Boyle.

Regarding staging,well, maybe. Apparently she tried in the past and
failed, if this story of an earlier recording is correct. But, apparently
she was mostly tied up with helping her family (kitsch!), whatever training
she is reported to have had. And, while I suspect that Cowell was in on
some sort of manipulation, I don't think you can gin up or fake the audience
that much, which clearly went nuts to the point of making it hard to hear.

My guess is that she would not be appropriate for Schubert lieder, but she
might do just fine in some classical operas.

I am suprised at others who suspend their disbelief in order to be moved by the authenticity of a narrative that cannot authenticly provide the emotional payoff they seek.

Well not to get all post-modern on you, but who are you to judge whether someone else's emotional payoff is authentic? And further, are you similarly surprised when people suspend their disbelief and go to the movies? It seems like some people have unrealistically high expectations for authenticity...

Oh, I'm sure the emotions are genuine, but they are manipulated, and require some degree of willingness to be manipulated in order to believe. The difference with the suspension of disbelief for fiction is, obviously, the awareness that it is fiction. The disturbing thing here is the willingness to create a not-quite-true reality and to become emotionally invested not only in the narrative (I get emotionally invested in narratives and fictional characters all the time!) but emotionally invested in the TRUTH of the narrative. People don't get offended if you tell them Battlestar Galactica is fiction. They do if you tell them the Susan Boyle clip might not as real as they want it to be.

I think everyone is born with a special talent/talents/gifts. Some people are very lucky that they are born as a mentally/physcially healthy infant/child and some are very lucky to be born into a stable/loving family to give them the confidence or to make it easier to discover their talents/gifts. This opinion is based on my life experience. (I was an orphan for the first five years of my life in a Hong Kong orphanage and then I was adopted out into a loving New Zealand family. I think I am really lucky that I have been given the opportunities by my parents to keep disovering my interests/gifts/talents in playing the piano and to study a teaching degree.

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