You can't stop Susan Boyle!

The "Britain's Got Talent" phenomenon sets a record for Internet views, and even Elaine Page and Oprah want a piece of this lady.


Sarah Hepola
April 20, 2009 5:11PM (UTC)

"Britain's Got Talent" phenomenon Susan Boyle continued her staggering victory lap this weekend, as clips of her performance set a record for most views in a week, according to the Washington Post. Video of the 47-year-old Scottish woman -- singing "I Dreamed a Dream," of course, but also including her television appearances and even a coveted "lost recording" ("Cry Me a River," from a 1999 charity CD) -- generated 85.2 million views. (President Obama's victory speech? 18.5 million views.) Her Facebook fan page ballooned to more than a million members. Stage diva Elaine Paige, the diva Boyle memorably invoked in her conversation with the judges, has suggested a duet. Boyle appeared on "Larry King Live" on Friday and sang "My Heart Will Go On," and she has been booked for Oprah. Susan Boyle T-shirts, naturally, are available.

 "So I don't get it," one baffled friend said to me over the weekend. "This is because she's ugly?"

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Well, no. This is because of a particularly grim cultural moment, when recession anxiety and tea baggers and torture memos make for seriously bleak cocktail conversation. This is because that performance is a seven-minute narrative gem of subverted expectations and triumph. This is because online clips of television are increasingly becoming more important than television itself. As Mary Elizabeth Williams pointed out so eloquently last week, this is because reality shows have stoked our appetite for humiliation in a way that feels icky and tiresome, and watching that pattern so brilliantly upended is a blessed relief. This is because the performance is dynamite. And this is because "I Dreamed a Dream" is a freaking terrific song, people.

But, sure, this is also because Susan Boyle is not beautiful, not in any traditional sense of the term. Andy Borowitz poked fun of this in a column called, "Talented Ugly Person Baffles the World":

"In the TV business, we're told that beauty is everything," [news anchor] Ms. Genterson said. "But Susan Boyle has shown us that ugly people have the right to live, too."

It's all a wee bit embarrassing, as we stand around her, gawking, marveling, stroking her grey and unprocessed hair -- who is this woman who dares to be unashamed of her frump, who dares to say that she's "happy as I am: short and plump"? But this is a time when even male celebrities feel compelled to tweak themselves into immovable and unrecognizable plastic; no wonder we were thirsty, nay parched, for someone like Boyle. A million makeover shows have brought us to a place where the truly shocking reveal, the actual breathtaking finale is someone who wants to be ... ordinary?

But honestly? Boyle isn't ordinary. Her life in a remote Scottish village is as exotic, perhaps even more so, than the hardbodied housewives knocking back chardonnay and clawing their way through sample sales. Her face -- expressive and rubbery, with those scrunching caterpillar eyebrows -- is practically made for television comedy. She came to us with the backstory that she had never been kissed -- a classic Hollywood story if ever there were one.

And so, the juggernaut marches on: Read her astrological chart! Neighbors have come out of the woodwork, calling her a "great catch"! Another demo tape has been revealed! And the fameball keeps rolling on the way to her next performance in the semi-finals on May 23. Oh, that's right: Susan Boyle didn't win "Britain's Got Talent" -- this crazy train just got started. 

It's enough to make me hate the woman! If I didn't already love her so much.

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Sarah Hepola

Sarah Hepola is the author of the New York Times bestselling memoir, "Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget."

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