Yesterday, I compared Susan Boyle's second-place finish on Britain's Got Talent to Adam Lambert's loss on American Idol--NOT because the two singers shared any similarity with regards to musical style or image, but simply because both were considered frontrunners on their respective shows, both contestants' defeats were shockers, and both may have lost due to hype overload that turned off voters.
But really, there is no similarity whatsoever between Adam Lambert and Susan Boyle. While Adam, who has seemingly been groomed for stardom since childhood, has handled his second-place setback like a pro, Susan Boyle--according to reports by AFP, People, E!, and U.K. paper The Sun, among many others--has been rushed to London's Priory health clinic after suffering an emotional breakdown, just one day after losing on BGT to street-dance group Diversity.
According to another source, the NY Daily News, Susan ranted, "I hate this show!" and tossed a cup of water at a BGT staffer who tried to calm her down after she lost Saturday night; this was similar to erratic behavior she exhibited during the BGT semi-finals, when she threw several public fits and even threatened to quit the show.
Later, she reportedly appeared "spaced-out" as she wandered the lobby of her London hotel on Sunday morning. "The staff were concerned--something wasn't right," a hotel employee told The Sun. "She looked lost. Not all there." Police were eventually summoned to Susan's hotel on Sunday, along with an ambulance, so that doctors could assess Susan's state under Britain's Mental Health Act. Susan was then voluntarily transported to the Priory with a police escort. As of this writing, she remains there, recuperating.
"It's very tough," said a spokesperson for Britain's Got Talent. "She gave it her all [on the show] and is absolutely shattered."
It remains to be seen if this really is just "emotional exhaustion," as papers are benignly reporting, or if Susan's mental condition is far more deteriorated. I hope, obviously, that it's the former. But regardless, Susan's saga just makes me sad, and even a little mad.
This is a woman who has suffered all her life from learning disabilities, as a result of her oxygen deprivation at birth. This is a woman who was teased and ostracized constantly at school due to such disabilities, and who spent much of her life as a shut-in, caring for her elderly mother (until her mom died two years ago) and living alone with her cat. This is a woman who, quite frankly, may not have been at all emotionally or mentally stable enough to handle the immense pressure of competing on a live talent show, let alone becoming an overnight international celebrity. And after years of being bullied by nasty school peers, this is a woman who probably wasn't adequately equipped to deal with being bullied by far, far nastier bloggers and paparazzi.
So all this begs the question: Did the producers of Britain's Got Talent have a moral responsibility to protect someone like Susan? To make sure she was prepared to handle the scrutiny and stress of sudden fame? To maybe even keep her off the show for her own good? Or were they just exploiting her, because her ugly-duckling story was pure ratings gold?
This whole scenario is beginning to eerily remind me of Paula Goodspeed--the mentally ill American Idol reject who was allowed to enter the Idol tryout room despite Paula Abdul's objections, and later committed suicide after her ill-fated audition. At the time of Goodspeed's death, psychologist Dr. Bethany Marshall said: "Here's the problem with these kinds of shows. If you have a personality-disordered, fragile, vulnerable contestant who is very sensitive to criticism, and you put the image of them being criticized on YouTube...plastered in front of millions of people--they're not Teflon-coated. They cannot handle it."
Dr. Marshall's statement may, sadly, apply to Susan's situation as well.
Now, I don't have any concrete answers here. I'm not accusing the BGT powers-that-be of any deliberate wrong-doing in this case. No one forced Susan Boyle to audition for BGT, and perhaps the show's producers could not predict that Susan would become such an instant media sensation, and/or were not aware of the severity of Susan's disabilities.
But...maybe they should have been aware. Maybe these shows should screen contestants more rigidly, to make sure they can handle the pressure--if not as media-savvily as Adam Lambert, then at least with the composure of a healthy, mentally balanced adult.
TalkBackThames, the TV company behind BGT, issued this statement Sunday regarding Susan's condition: "Following Saturday night's show, Susan is exhausted and emotionally drained. She has been seen by her private GP, who supports her decision to take a few days out for rest and recovery. We offer her our ongoing support and wish her a speedy recovery."
I wish Susan Boyle a speedy recovery as well. I would like her to be a role model for people with learning disabilities--by overcoming adversity and having an actual successful singing career--rather than see her become just another victim of reality TV.