It’s been a little over one week since Susan Boyle entered all of our lives. In the nine days since Boyle changed the course of history with her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables, she has cured cancer, invented cold fusion, brokered world peace and swam the English Channel. Or, at least it’s felt like it. I apologize for being the turd in the punch bowl here – I understand that millions of people the world over have felt legitimate happiness and inspiration because of Susan Boyle’s performance. I do not begrudge you that. Hers is an inspirational story, sure, in that she doesn’t look like your typical pop sensation. The inspiration comes from the shattering of expectations. Had Susan Boyle’s performance come out of a mildly attractive 25-year old woman, no one would have batted an eye. But, since it was an unattractive 48-year old church volunteer, the world gets whipped into a frenzy. This was predictable, and the producers of Britain’s Got Talent knew it. The phenomenon of Susan Boyle is not a pure underdog story, and when you really parse everything out, it’s more than a little disturbing.
I am not a hateful, cheerless individual. I promise you that. I don’t take pleasure in raining on the Susan Boyle parade. But, even as much as I usually like Simon Cowell, we can’t let him get away with this. Last week on FOX News Channel’s abysmal program Red Eye, Bill Hemmer discussed an interview he conducted with Susan Boyle. When he asked her if she had auditioned on her own or if the producers’ had discovered her, Boyle let slip that it was Britain’s Got Talent who found her and not the other way around. There were no follow-up questions offered, but one gets the feeling that Boyle wasn’t supposed to let this fact be known. Other media reports have said that Boyle did in fact audition on her own, but none of that has been fully substantiated. If we are to believe Susan Boyle’s word (and why wouldn’t we?), the implications aren’t pretty.
If Britain’s Got Talent did indeed recruit Boyle, one thing is clear – Simon Cowell was aware of her existence well before she took the stage. He is the creator of Britain’s Got Talent. He knows what’s going on. It may have been as little as him knowing that a big surprise would be taking the stage two Saturday’s ago. Regardless, it makes his reaction to Boyle’s performance and the editing of the episode somewhat disingenuous. Simon Cowell has not been shy in explaining why shows like American Idol and Britain’s Got Talent exist – to create and cultivate viable commercial artists. Simon Cowell doesn’t care about inspiring people, he cares about selling records and making money.
Could they honestly expect, you might ask, that a frumpy (this word has been used in 95% of all articles on Susan Boyle) 48-year-old would become a global phenomenon? Do they really think she’ll sell records? Well, yeah, with help from a tireless marketing machine. The blueprint was already in place. Paul Potts, a weird-looking former cell phone salesman, similarly wowed the global audience with his audition on Britain’s Got Talent a few years back. Despite being an opera singer (not exactly the most commercial of genres these days), Potts eventually went on to win Britain’s Got Talent and subsequently sold millions upon millions of records worldwide, making Simon Cowell and company an untold amount of money.
Susan Boyle, essentially, is Paul Potts 2.0. That Boyle would become a viral success (though perhaps not to this degree) was completely anticipated. The YouTube video was up and running immediately after her performance, posted by Britain’s Got Talent. Interviews were readied, and Boyle was clearly coached. Not to say that Boyle is at fault for anything – she was given an opportunity and wisely took it. She has a good voice. But, if we’re looking at pure talent, is she really deserving of the obscene amount of coverage she’s received? Or has it been totally inflated?
The question, I suppose, is whether you’re OK with a person’s story being more important than their actual level of talent, even if that story was carefully managed by an entity solely concerned with profiting off of the story. I cannot make this clear enough – Simon Cowell is not in the business of inspiring people. He’s not in the business of telling stories. He’s in the business of making money by creating musical commodities. He’s done it on American Idol and he’s done it on Britain’s Got Talent and he’ll keep doing it until the world stops buying into it all.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I have absolutely no ill will towards Susan Boyle. She seems like a fine lady, a good singer, a likable personality. I just don’t feel comfortable hailing her as the second coming because of an appearance on a televised talent show. The fact that she was discovered by the show and not the other way around makes apparent what we already knew but hate admitting – that these shows are blatantly, shamelessly in on it. They know exactly what they’re doing and have become incredibly good at it. For Simon Cowell and company to pretend that Susan Boyle apparated out of nowhere and fell into their laps with no prior warning is a cruel trick, though because of how undeniably feel-good her story is, no one will dare calling them out on it.
It’s something to think about, at the very least. If the ends justify the means, and you’re totally fine with some behind-the-scenes puppet masters raking in oceans of cash thanks to Susan Boyle, if the fact that the viral success of Boyle was, in all likelihood, meticulously planned, then kudos to you. Boyle herself will surely benefit from the attention. I just have a difficult time reconciling the shameless profiteering involved. For me, the knowledge that Boyle herself was probably a recruit soils a lot of the joy her performance has given millions of individuals worldwide. Believe me, I wish it didn’t.
(I fully expect to be raked over the coals for this, which is fine. I just ask that we keep it civil. It’s a topic worth discussing, so let’s discuss it.)
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-Oscar Dahl, BuddyTV Senior Writer
(Image Courtesy of The Mirror)