The ITV show Britain’s Got Talent has reached the semi-final stage and an unknown, unmarried and unemployed 47 year old woman from Scotland called Susan Boyle has just got through to Saturday’s final (May 30th). Within days of her original performance the video clip of her singing ‘I dreamed a dream’ had been viewed by 25 million people around the world, this for a woman who did not even own a computer! Why did her performance have such an impact? Partly because as soon as she began to sing it became clear that she had an amazing voice, partly because she sang an emotional song about having a dream but mostly the reason she shot to fame was because she just didn’t look like a star. It was her very obvious ordinariness that lulled the audience into thinking ‘here comes another deluded individual with an unrealistic belief in her own ability’. In the papers following her performance she was described as having the eyebrows of a roman emperor, and said herself that she thought she looked like a garage! She was the type of middle aged woman who sits behind you on the bus into town and you barely notice her. She didn’t have the walk. She didn’t have the dress-sense, she didn’t have the hair, the face, the figure, but, oh boy, did she have the voice.
What Susan’s story tells us is that we have come to expect that talent will come in a certain ‘package’. It is no longer simply enough for someone to have an extraordinary voice, they have to also look the part. If you’d closed your eyes throughout the video clip you’d still be impressed by her voice, it would be no less good. So why should her looks (or lack of them) be so much a part of her story? Why do we not expect middle aged people with bushy eyebrows and frumpy hair to have an extraordinary talent? Why shouldn’t they?
The theme of this November’s Activate conference is that we are all ‘extraordinarily ordinary’. Each of us has a talent, passion, or ability that we can use to extraordinary effect. When we find, discover and step out into that calling all of us can profoundly impact our families, our neighbourhoods,our friends,our colleagues and yes even the world. We might not end up on youtube, we might not win a talent contest but the world will be a different place if we have stepped up to be all we can be.
Susan now has tidy eyebrows and new hair colour but other than that she seemed, refreshingly, the same slightly wacky person with a wonderful voice. Whether or not she wins already seems completely irrelevant, she has been an inspiration and a wake up call reminding us that we are all ‘extraordinarily ordinary’

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  • mandy catto

    We joined half the nation in watching the final of ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ on Saturday night. I wanted Susan Boyle to win, I love listening to her voice and she is so refreshingly different. But watching her on stage and reading how she has struggled under the enormous pressure, I began to feel anxious for her. It sounds like being the ‘favourite to win’ and facing not just a British but an international media frenzy has become too much for a woman with learning difficulties and from a sheltered background.
    On the night she looked dazed, possibly even under mild sedation. She sang her heart out and I wanted to ‘dream with her’ but in the end we as a family voted for the dance act from Essex, Diversity. When they announced Diversity as winners she looked gracious in second place, even a little relieved.
    Today the papers are full of the news that she will still have a lucrative international singing career, figures of £8 million are being mentioned. There is also the news that she has been checked into The Priory clinic to escape from the stress. My hope for her is that she will be given the support and protection she needs to use her extraordinary talents and ‘dream her dream’ without losing the real, ordinary Susan Boyle.

    • Cathy Hemsley

      I agree with you: I was very relieved for her that she didn’t win, and Diversity were excellent – deservedly winners! If I could give her something then I would give her a slot in the Royal Variety Performance, and then I would pray that she went back to her previous life, with a few more friends and self-confidence, and maybe more chances to sing in public, but not with a big career with load of money. Is fame going to be the best thing for her? Surely she needs friends more?

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