The Appeal and Fallout of the Susan Boyle Phenomenon

Update:  CLICK HERE to read my post on Susan Boyle’s debut Album ‘I Dreamed A Dream’.

By now, tens of millions have converged on YouTube to watch the sensational phenomenon of Susan Boyle, the middle-age woman from Scotland on Britain’s Got Talent.  Arti has waited for the dust to settle a bit before commenting, allowing her hindsight to catch up.

So, what’s the appeal of Susan Boyle?  The planned and scripted intention of the producer and judges aside, what is so attractive about the 47 year-old woman?  Is it the plain, country look, the greying frizzy hair, the unkempt and overweight physique?  In this image-driven, urbane society of ours, these features definitely aren’t valuable assets.  Or, as so many have claimed, it’s her voice that has enthralled us all.  Yes,  the lady certainly has potential and talent in this regard.   But truth be told, could Susan Boyle have garnered so much praise if she had looked differently?

The universal appeal of Susan Boyle is the mismatch of her look with her voice, a perceived dissonance based on a prejudiced, preconceived notion marking viewers’ expectations.   What talent could a middle-age, plain-looking, hamlet-dwelling woman have?  The public has a real fun case of being fooled.  Ha, the joke is on us.  We’ve been wrong all along.  Unattractive bodies can be talented personalities.  And the audience had enjoyed the twist and surprise.  Susan Boyle’s  TV appearance provides real entertainment value, albeit manipulative according to skeptics of reality shows.  Simon Cowell should be most gratified.   It’s all about the ratings, and future record sales.

susan-boyles-new-lookBut wait, don’t speak too soon.  Now the 47 year-old has a few hairs on her eyebrows plucked, her unruly lock trimmed and dyed a younger look, donned some neater attire.  Lo and behold, the mismatch has diminished.  As the excitement wanes, criticisms arise.  “She shouldn’t change too much,” the public decries.  “That’s the limit that she should go, no further,” the critics advise.  Wouldn’t it be terrible if Susan Boyles decides to join Weight Watchers.  Of course she shouldn’t, it’ll be much less entertaining.

What have we become now?  Spectators of a freak show in a circus?  What about those lyrics that have enthralled us initially?  Can a woman not be allowed to have her own way, make her own decision to change or not, choose her own lifestyle, and interpret her own dream?  Is she selling her soul just by having a facial?  I’m afraid Susan Boyle is no match for our sensationalism and thrill-seeking crowd of  reality TV viewers, or the humongous entertainment business looking to generate more profits in whatever way possible.

I worry too that the overnight rise to stardom is making Susan Boyle equally vulnerable to become an instant victim of the fallout.  A trampled rose or discarded weed, they meet the same destiny.  Of course, I wish her well and that the pursuit of her dream will not become a nightmare in the callous arena of public opinion.

The curious case of Susan Boyle also reminds me of another woman with talent living in obscurity two hundred years ago.  She was a bit younger,  living in rural England, striving to be herself in the pursuit of her dream to become a writer.  Sadly, she did not live to middle-age, nor see her name credited to her work.  To avoid fallouts and social reverberations, she had to seek anonymity.  Now we know her as Jane Austen.

The lyrics of that tune still sound poignant:  “After changes upon changes, we’re more or less the same;  after changes, we’re more or less the same…”

Photo Credit:  Andrew Milligan/PA,  Source: Times Online


Original writing by Arti of Ripple Effects.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  If you are reading this on a website other than Ripple Effects, you are reading a post that has been copied without permission.  Go to to read this and other original and interesting articles on entertainment, books and movies.

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If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

7 thoughts on “The Appeal and Fallout of the Susan Boyle Phenomenon”

  1. This is the first time I’ve seen Susan Boyle’s entire performance. It reminded me of Paul Pott’s performance of Pavarotti’s signature aria, “Nessun Dorma”, just about a year ago.

    I thought it was interesting that you used the word “dissonance. I looked up a simple definition of cognitive dissonance and found it is “the feeling of uncomfortable tension which comes from holding two conflicting thoughts in the mind at the same time.” I’m sure that was precisely the experience of many people when they were confronted by the frumpy villager with the drop-dead voice.

    The interesting thing about cognitive dissonance is that we don’t like it. We try to resolve the tension on one side or another. I’m not enough of a sociologist to take it much farther than that, but I DO imagine that Susan Boyle herself is dealing with some issues of dissonance. I couldn’t help but think of Tennessee Williams’ essay about the catastrophe of success – maybe we should send a copy to Ms. Boyle?

    I don’t watch these shows, but I do love it when someone makes enough of a stir that it catches my attention – it’s fun to see someone with a dream realize it in front of the whole world.
    It’s also fun to see people change before our eyes – it’s as though winning gives them confidence to let the outside catch up with the inside. I’m hoping that little jig she danced on stage is an indication she does have the humour and resiliance to deal with it all.

    And by all means, go for the facial – and the pedicure and manicure and new hair. She’ll no doubt have the money for it now!


    1. Hi Linda,

      Yes, they’re saying SB is the female version of the PP phenom. But it seems that the public is much more critical on SB. You’re right in noting the word “dissonance” having its root in the term found in social psychology. I admit I was a sociology major back in the good ole days. But here I use the word more generally. I also have in mind the musical application, a discord, since it’s through her song that we’re confronted with such a mismatch.

      Thank you so much for pointing me to Tennessee Williams’ essay The Catastrophe of Success. I read it through and it’s most enlightening. You see, in this day and age, it’s very much an interactive phenomenon, While the artist of course needs to guard his/her inner self, the public too ought to discipline itself to not get too carried away, to blindly support, creating all the hype and sensationalism (being manipulated by the entertainment industry), or to callously reject and judge, thereby ruining and defaming others’ character and reputation.

      I’ve appreciated one particular sentence in TW’s essay. Quoting Saroyan, he said ‘… the purity of heart is the one success worth having.’ And this applies to all. So wise, so true.

      Thank you for your input and starting off with some meaningful discussion.



  2. Arti, this was a brilliant write-up! These same thoughts have been whirling around in my head too, and I couldn’t agree more. I myself was hoping she wouldn’t pluck her eyebrows, yet at the same time, she gets to decide. Yet . . yet I don’t want her to be controlled by society’s standards. Yet I allow myself to be to some extent. So it’s really like our societal powers are playing out with this one woman, and the pressure she feels must be remarkable. I hope she can maintain her own sense of self and flourish.

    You have a wonderful blog!


    1. Ruth,

      I think it’s good that one is ambivalent about the whole phenomenon, that means one is actually weighing and thinking about all aspects of it. Guard yourself for more reverberations… the rumors being generated can well be self-fulfilling prophecies, like the one saying she’s suffered a mental breakdown, which has been denied by her family. Anyway, before it all turns ugly, I think the public needs to stand back a bit and let her be, let her choose, give her some room and let it all cool down a bit. And you’re right, we just hope that the torrents of public opinion juxtaposed with the agenda of the entertainment industry will not destroy her sense of self and that she can reach her dream ultimately. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your view.



  3. I loved Susan Boyle’s original performance–and I loved that spunky jiggle (the song makes me cry every time I hear it). But when I saw the ‘makeover’ photos in the paper all I could think was, “Ah, the machine has got to her.” So, did the producers frump her up on purpose to make the supposed transformation that much more startling (therefore, noticeable, therefore marketable, therefore $$$), or was it genuine? Like Eliza Dolittle, she really can’t go back exactly to where she came from, but will she be allowed to move on? Will she be allowed to be herself? Will she be able to keep that jiggle? What will happen to her when her 15 minutes are over?


    1. Hi ds,

      You see, what I’m thinking is that the public is critical about her now because the mismatch has diminished. They want to see a SB who doesn’t change, who remains the same in appearance so they’ll find it more entertaining. We really don’t know about the motive behind her “makeover”. To the tabloids I’d say: Give the girl a break.

      In the essay mentioned in Linda’s comment, TW finishes by saying: “In the time of your life–live!” It seems that SB is trying to do just that.


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