Scottish church lady finds her voice (updated)

0170201bNo one does pack journalism like the Brits, but let me jump in here and give it a try. You see, the hottest video out there in YouTube land -- click here, since the embed code has been disabled -- is the amazing performance by one Susan Boyle on the Britain's Got Talent show, which is kind of American Idol with a wider spectrum of amateurs attempting to show off their alleged talents.

As you know, some of the most popular moments in these "reality" talent shows are provided by ordinary people who are allowed to display their lack of talent, thus earning the snarky wrath of superstar judge Simon Cowell.

So when dowdy, late-40something spinster Susan -- no boyfriends, admits that she has never been kissed -- walks out on stage, you can see people reacting out in the audience (and the judges too, of course). This lady has been brought out to be shredded before the nation. After all, she admits that she looks "like a garage."

Now, here's some background from The Times. But first, ask yourself: Where does an old maid do her singing? Any ideas? This is one of the details many of the stories are missing.

"Modern society is too quick to judge people on their appearances," she said. "There is not much you can do about it; it is the way they think; it is the way they are. But maybe this could teach them a lesson, or set an example."

At the pre-recorded audition, broadcast four days ago, audience members laughed at the frizzy-haired, church-going Catholic who lives alone with her cat in a rundown council estate, when she said she wanted to follow in the footsteps of the West End star Elaine Paige. Nevertheless, she said, she was determined to show them she has what it takes.

"What you do is ignore that and get on with your act. You have to," Ms Boyle said.

Minutes later the audience were on their feet, applauding wildly after her soaring rendition of I Dreamed a Dream, from Les Miserables.

Like I said, you have to join the other millions of people around the world who are watching this video to get the full effect. Have your tissues ready.

Of course there are more details. Boyle was born with a learning disability. She surrendered years of her life, and her dreams of being a singer, to care for her elderly mother. She stopped singing altogether two years ago -- apparently even at church -- when her mother died, but decided to take this leap of faith on television as a tribute to her Mum, who was a big fan of the show.

Now she is on the verge of getting her shot, perhaps as a character actress in musicals -- taking advantage of her age. She is already hearing offers.

Today, she is a worldwide sensation, a clip of her performance from the show has been viewed almost 2.5 million times on YouTube, and made it on to the news schedules in the United States. Prior to her TV debut Ms Boyle, who is unemployed, spent her days shopping, doing her housework, and occasionally visiting one of her eight siblings. Overnight she has become a national celebrity, but is determined not to change.

"I've had people recognising me but I have gone on as normal -- I am very down to earth," she said.

The role of the church and her large family is interesting, of course. This story is also making waves because it so clearly undercuts the whole culture of youth and beauty that surrounds the entertainment industry. Might even American Idol have to change?

kleenexBut there's another element of the story that has people, literally, in tears (check out this simple Google search). Mainstream journalism doesn't get more cynical and world-weary than Entertainment Weekly. But check out this confession from PopWatch blogger Lisa Schwarzbaum:

... (Right) now I'm pondering why the experience of watching and listening to Ms. Boyle makes so many viewers cry, me among them. And I think I've got a simple answer, at least for me: In our pop-minded culture so slavishly obsessed with packaging -- the right face, the right clothes, the right attitudes, the right Facebook posts -- the unpackaged artistic power of the unstyled, un-hip, un-kissed Ms. Boyle let me feel, for the duration of one blazing showstopping ballad, the meaning of human grace. She pierced my defenses. She reordered the measure of beauty. And I had no idea until tears sprang how desperately I need that corrective from time to time.

Boyle, of course, might mention another form of grace. However, it may take the journalism pack a few more days to make that leap with her.

Meanwhile, check out the lyrics to the famous song she used as her anthem as she took her one shot. Here's a sample:

I dreamed a dream in time gone by When hope was high And life worth living I dreamed that love would never die I dreamed that God would be forgiving Then I was young and unafraid And dreams were made and used and wasted There was no ransom to be paid No song unsung, no wine untasted

But the tigers come at night With their voices soft as thunder As they tear your hope apart And they turn your dream to shame

Where is that extra box of tissues?

UPDATE: Here's some more church-lady details, as the press rolls on and on with the story. It appears that when you actually get to her village, the church is the key connection.

This is from the Washington Post follow story:

She always wanted to sing in front of a large audience, but mostly she just sings in church. On Easter Sunday, the day after her television debut, Boyle -- dubbed "The Woman Who Shut Up Simon Cowell" in one headline -- received a standing ovation when she went to Mass.

"We let out a wee bit of a cheer for her. We are quite proud of her," Boyle's parish priest, the Rev. Ryszard Holuka, said in a telephone interview. He added that Boyle is a "quiet soul."

"At gatherings and anniversary parties, she'd stand up and give a song," he said. "She never flaunted her voice; this is the first time it's been publicly recognized."

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