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Britain's Got Standards

Not really AI news, but related: I finally got a chance to catch up with Susan Boyle, the dowdy middle-aged churchwoman who blew the living shit out of the competition on Britain's Got Talent. The woman's got pipes straight from Heaven, no doubt about it, the kind of voice that can make you tear up just by hearing it. But a big part of the pleasure in watching her was seeing how the audience and the judges -- who were obviously laughing at her, rolling their eyes and sneering at her goofy demeanor and frumpy appearance -- instantly galvanized from negative to positive the first few notes of her performance. The judges, including the ever-unflappable Simon Cowell, were absolutely dumbstruck and the audience went from openly sniggering at her to cheering her like she was the second coming in the space of a minute.

I think the press is highly overselling the idea that she represents some kind of sea change where the general public is suddenly going to stop being shallow and obsessed with looks, but it's definitely good to see, every once in a while, someone who's genuinely rewarded for their abilities despite their appearance or circumstance. Boyle gave the performance of a lifetime, cramming an ocean of sadness into an already sad song and then delivering it with unfettered joy -- it's truly one of the great pop moments I've ever witnessed, and knowing that mainstream audiences can still respond to that in massive numbers is a good sign.


Apr. 20th, 2009 03:13 pm (UTC)
Coming from that sort of working class culture where dowdy, ignored people singing their hearts out magnificently in choirs and choruses is nothing unusual, I've got to say she's not that great a singer, just perfectly adequate for that kind of middlebrow, pseudo-classical theatrical singing a la Sarah Brightman.

But that's not the point. She's the designated "ordinary person" whose presence makes everyone feel good about themselves, like they've done a good deed by putting true ability over looks, if only just this once (and because they'd be shamed by society if they did anything else).

It's like one of Tyra's special where she puts on a fat suit and shows she really feels the pain of life's rejects, weep... and coming up next - facelifts for poodles....

Edited at 2009-04-20 03:15 pm (UTC)
Apr. 20th, 2009 03:19 pm (UTC)
Man, I dunno. I think sometimes it is possible to be a bit too cynical.
Apr. 20th, 2009 03:40 pm (UTC)
You want too cynical? I read an article on Friday that all but accused Simon of planting her in the competition knowing full well the kind of television it would make.
Apr. 20th, 2009 06:50 pm (UTC)
It's not an "accusation." Before anybody goes up to the televised "auditions" on a Cowell show before the star judges, they go through about half a dozen rounds of lesser auditions, and the final pre-audition is frequently monitored by Cowell or Nigel Lythgoe (depending on the show) if they think the person has the quality to give a big pop for their audience (live and televised). You think Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul could handle all 50,000 auditions in San Wherever It Is This Year? Fuck no, they see maybe three hundred.

That's SOP for Cowell and Lythgoe's reality empire, and really it's the responsible way to do it; you weed out most of the boring, harmless crazies and attention whores (making sure to keep two or three really classic ones), and occasionally you get a Susan Boyle moment.

And back to Boyle - there is precisely ZERO chance that Cowell didn't pre-authorize her for the finals. He likes underdog stories and he genuinely likes it when there's a chance of surprising the audience as Boyle did, and if one of his assistant producers saw her they'd know instantly to call him and ask for his opinion. He wasn't surprised at all.
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Apr. 20th, 2009 04:29 pm (UTC)
Words I never thought I would hear from a black-hooded executioner.
Apr. 20th, 2009 09:30 pm (UTC)
I'm a little baffled by you calling a Broadway showtune "pseudo-classical," as though you just exploded its subterfuge. I'm not under the impression that modern stage musicals make pretension to pass for Brahms.

Edited at 2009-04-20 09:32 pm (UTC)
Apr. 20th, 2009 05:04 pm (UTC)
Now, see, I'm a little puzzled ... has the world forgotten Paul Potts?
Apr. 20th, 2009 05:08 pm (UTC)
No, not at all -- he's frequently mentioned in the press about her. I think the major differences are that (a) she's a pop singer, which means she's operating in a much more looks/youth-oriented sphere than someone who sings opera and (b) she's a woman, and they're allowed to be unattractive far less often than are men.
Apr. 20th, 2009 05:13 pm (UTC)
Weird...that was me. I dunno why it signed me out.
Apr. 20th, 2009 06:41 pm (UTC)
Also, if you watch Potts' first time on the show, there's no derisive wolf whistle, no eye-rolling, none of the "not cute" shaming that Boyle got. Also, I am the only person on the planet who doesn't think she is particularly "fat." I mean next to Paris Hilton, yeah, but ... no.
Apr. 20th, 2009 09:23 pm (UTC)
I suppose, I just remember that in the Potts audition, he was STILL getting shine from that clover-faced lady judge. "You're just an ugly little duckling, aren't you?" kind of derision that persisted past his blowing their pants off ...
Apr. 20th, 2009 06:50 pm (UTC)
The thing that resonates with me long after the initial shock and pleasure wore off is that she was able to wow an audience just by being solidly good (ortho_bob's opinion notwithstanding). None of the crutches used by younger, fitter, prettier pop stars -- no useless showoff vocal riffs or pseudo-gospel or jazz "reimagining" -- just good, solid vocal ability, theatricality, and, god help her, a stage presence and confidence that younger performers would kill for.
Apr. 20th, 2009 08:53 pm (UTC)

The fact that everyone's talking about how she's frumpy/fat/unfashionable/bushy-eyebrowed is *exactly* the problem. That's the story: Ugly lady sounds good. It fits nicely into that cliched moral message about learning a lesson about "judging a book by its cover." Then we all go back to calling Britney Spears a pig and listening to garbagey music. I mean, really -- who's listening to Broadway showtunes?
Apr. 20th, 2009 09:24 pm (UTC)
Several million people to the tune of several billion dollars a year?
Apr. 22nd, 2009 01:08 am (UTC)
Point taken.
Apr. 20th, 2009 11:43 pm (UTC)
I'm rarely amazed by anything on any of the "talent" shows out there, but that woman is amazing and deserves any good things that come her way. The judges on those shows are generally overcritical of peoples' appearance, but Ms Boyle made them drop the phony idol crap and look at real talent for a change. Great pop moment for sure!
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Leonard Pierce is a freelance writer wandering around Texas with no sleep or sense of direction. If you give him money he will write something for you. If you are nice to him he may come to your house and get drunk.

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