by Ian de Stains OBE
Auditions are a fact of life for anyone making their living as a performer. The great majority of actors, singers, and other musicians must learn to take these telling tests in their stride, no matter how gut-wrenching they may be; no matter how strong their own track record. People who have never had to endure such a process can really not imagine the agony of putting out your best effort, knowing that much of the time it will simply not be good enough.
Yet competitive TV shows such as American Idol and the Simon Cowell-owned equivalent Britain’s Got Talent see a never-ending stream of people willing to strut their stuff before millions of judgmental viewers, not to mention the cynical studio judges who sometimes seem to feel the purpose of their being there is to score points by aiming barbs at willing victims.
Shows such as these have contributed significantly to the dumbing-down of our broadcast culture while reinforcing stereotypes about artists, especially when it comes to women: want to be a celebrity? You need the shape, the looks: sex sells. Without it, forget it!
In what has now become a global talking point, that view was set on its head when a 47 year-old Scottish church volunteer with a frumpy look and a hair-do that looked slept in literally astonished Cowell and his co-tormentors on the UK show with a performance of I Dreamed a Dream that was nothing short of dazzling, that brought the studio audience to its feet and had them howling their appreciation. The seven miraculous minutes have been viewed on YouTube some 26 million times and Susan Boyle has found herself catapulted from obscurity to stardom with appearances on Larry King Live and The Oprah Winfrey Show.
I’ve watched the sequence a number of times, in part for the sheer joy of hearing Ms. Boyle’s remarkable interpretation (she doesn’t just sing the song—she becomes it), but also for the admittedly malicious pleasure there is to be gained from seeing the self-righteous judges put firmly in their place. It is all too clear at the start from their rolling eyes and condescending comments that they had already judged this book by its cover. How spectacularly, rewardingly wrong they were!
But there is another lesson to be learned, and all of us can benefit from heeding it: hold on to your dreams. Martin Luther King had a dream; Barrack Obama inherited dreams and inspires others. Each in his own way has made a big difference to the lives of many. It is not too much to say that Susan Boyle, in hers, has done the same, and I feel privileged that she has touched my life.
Ian de Stains, OBE is the Executive Director of the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan. He is also the author ofThe Business Traveller’s Handbook to Japan, published by Stacey International and available from Amazon.
Susan Boyle on Britain’s Got Talent