This weekend, Susan Boyle--the dowdy, "never been kissed" 48-year-old Scottish singer who'd been Britain's Got Talent's frontrunner and biggest media darling since she first startled Simon Cowell with her performance of Les Miserables' "I Dreamed A Dream"--shockingly lost on BGT. Even more surprisingly, she didn't even lose to the show's other two frontrunning vocalists, 10-year-old singing ballerina Hollie Steel and 12-year-old soul sensation Shaheen Jafargholi, but to a dance troupe called Diversity that had received far less attention (at least on this side of the pond).
Pretty much all of Britain's eyes--and soon after, thanks to the Interweb, the world's eyes--were focused on Susan from the moment she opened her mouth and shocked everyone by proving that (gasp!) a somewhat unattractive person could actually have vocal talent. Apparently such a novel concept--in this age of impeccably air-brushed but only marginally talented pop stars--blew the minds of Brits and Yanks alike. But Susan also touched an international nerve with her Cinderella story, because at the heart of all these talent shows--from American Idol to X Factor, from America's Got Talent to Britain's Got Talent--is the inspirational idea that anyone can be a star. The ugly-duckling fairytale of overcoming lowered expectations, and then proving all naysayers wrong, is indeed universal.
The backlash was inevitable, especially considering that--unlike thick-skinned seasoned showbiz pro Lambert, who seemed to handle his media blitz with ease--a small-town shut-in like Susan was hardly well-equipped to deal with such scrutiny. As the countdown to the BGT finale neared, the seemingly sweet-natured Scot, unaccustomed to living her life in the public eye, began to undergo an unfortunate public meltdown that seemed likely to hurt her chances of pulling off her once-expected landslide victory. She nervously hit some pitchy notes during the BGT semi-finals, and then reportedly freaked out at London's Wembley Plaza Hotel in front of 150 shocked viewing-party guests after watching BGT judge Piers Morgan rave about Shaheen Jafargholi. Rumors soon swirled that Susan might succumb to the pressure and quit the show altogether.
Piers then angrily defended Susan on his blog, ordering Susan's detractors to leave her alone. "She has been in tears many times during the last few days...she's had to read stories and columns, and listen to radio and TV phone-ins, calling her arrogant, insincere, spoiled, fake, mad, and so on," he wrote. "Susan Boyle has never experienced anything like this and is like a frightened rabbit in headlights...Anybody who has gone through that transformation is going to be feeling the most unbelievable pressure. You could see the nerves almost crippling her on the semi-final show and I just think it's time that everyone slightly backed off."
But of course, in this media age of instant celebrity, no one EVER backs off. So even more and more pressure landed on Susan's rounded shoulders, and British bookmaker William Hill subsequently lowered its odds for Susan to win after the reports of her expletive-riddled behavior came to light. The Susan Boyle rags-to-riches-to-rags saga seemed especially accelerated in this case. This was certainly a different kind of stardom than she might have dreamed of when she was a young girl, performing in little local talent shows that were not broadcast to the entire planet.
However, to her credit, on the BGT finale night Susan surprisingly rose to the occasion like a Lambert-esque pro. By all accounts her reprise performance of "I Dreamed A Dream" was a stunner (again, see video above), as she sang with unexpected confidence in a shimmering evening gown and appeared, according to the AP, "more polished and animated than in previous performances." And even when she lost out to Diversity, she handled herself well, sweetly curtsying to the audience and giving her trademark hip shake rather than suffering the amateurish breakdown some cynics and bookmakers may have expected.
- Susan Boyle
- Adam Lambert
- Shaheen Jafargholi