Britain's Got Talent, But No Stylist?


Susan Boyle can be assured of a lifetime of success now that she has become an "internet phenomenon". I was admittedly as shocked as everyone else to witness the 47-year-old social worker stand in front of a packed concert hall on the British talent show Britain’s Got Talent and pump her fists with excitement.

But despite her unkempt eyebrows, appalling posture, the fact that she momentarily forgot that she lives in a village, dark stockings with light coloured open-toed shoes, and hair … well, it looks like hair, Boyle turned potential terror and pain into uplifting enjoyment. The judging panel gave her platitudes and praise, embracing her (not
literally — let’s not all go completely nuts here) and the power of her
song. The global effect is likely to continue for at least another five days, or until the next episode of Britain’s In Recession, Look What Our Talent Has Done For Us.

Who could have guessed? Well, Simon Cowell, resident prick on the show’s judging panel, also happens to be its executive producer. His frank statement following Boyle’s performance, "I knew exactly what was going to occur," is probably the most credible thing ever to be said on the program. Joined by his fellow judges — a British garden variety stuffy panto and a plastic-fantastic — the sigh of relief when it turned out Boyle could actually sing was palpable (read: completely over-acted).

If you believe that people really are picked up off the street, thrown into the back of vans, taken back stage, then pushed in front of the cameras with a contestant sticker slapped on their chest in the hope that they can sing in tune — then you are getting far more TV bang for your buck than I ever will. See, this amazing spectacle of an orthodontically challenged contestant surreptitiously revealing their singing talents happened on the same program in 2007. Remember Paul Potts?

This takes nothing away from Susan Boyle’s "talent" and wonderful performance but let’s unplug the media’s orgasmic delight that this is somehow something more than a grand old television stunt. Pre-song, Cowell and Co couldn’t roll their eyes fast enough. There were shots of audience members grimacing; the physical discomfort of uncertainty and distaste. Cowell was effectively asking Boyle "What do you think you are doing here with the beautiful people?". And the other goons on the panel did tremendously well at looking awkward in the company of a commoner.

Her singing made her okay. It has shades of the same mass enlightenment when we respond well to Muslims with a sense of humour, or Asians who pretend they are dumb. Most of all, it touches everyone’s heart. The part of your heart which says, "She may be ugly, but she sure can sing". Why does that make people feel good? Because at the same time they are thinking: I may not be able to sing like that, but I know I still look beautiful when I try.

Let’s not pretend this makes everything okay. We’ve already been through this with that other UK export — Jane Goody. Goody had the horrible misfortune of getting cervical cancer and died in March, leaving two children and a husband (currently in jail for assault). Goody was a despicable person with bad tatts and botox who participated in a daily celebration of stupidity. But the media, and even the PM Gordon Brown (presumably for fear of further damage in the polls), all spoke glowingly of her. The latter years of her train-wreck of a life were all lived in front of the camera, including the moment she discovered she had cancer and her slow painful death. This was okay, according to her publicist and the media, since it’s important to make people "aware of cervical cancer".

I’m aware that hospitals and hospices are full of men, women and children quietly living through unimaginable pain and loss. I’m also aware of nursing homes full of men and women with the voices of angels and families who never visit them.

Over at Huffpo, they are hysterically excited about this latest British export, going so far as to say, "There’s a little bit of Susan Boyle in all of us". Well, Scottish migration has been significant in the past 400 years, but let’s keep this in context.

Perhaps Boyle will win this competition and then get to participate in Britain’s annual national tragedy, the Royal Command Performance. There’s even a campaign for her to sing at the London Olympics, which seems like a great idea until you imagine an entire Olympic stadium singing, "Do You Hear the People Sing?" at which point you realise it’s probably better to lock Boyle into a rigid artist contract now which has her playing the clubs of NSW for the second half of 2012. Which, I might add, is not far from where we will probably find her.

I would love to see more of Susan Boyle and think she should be the host of a few new television programs about real people. I know I’d watch, So You Think You Can Spell and Feeding the Homeless Under the Stars. And as long as she can keep making Patti Lupone cry then maybe there is some good to come out of this orchestrated stunt.


Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.