As Susan Boyle walked out on the stage of Britain's TV show similar to "American Idol." she looked to many that she didn't belong in such a venue. The three judges sat stoically. Ms. Boyle looked frumpy, unpolished, older, the antithesis of Vogue magazine. In the U.S. we were quick to be told that she had "never been kissed."
As she began to sing a song from "Les Miserables," the audience was stunned, shocked, awed, and immediately got very supportive of the woman singing with such a magnificent popular voice. The judges looked overwhelmed. It was electrifying. Instant stardom. I must ask this question: why?
Much has been made of her appearence, her "looks." Many have criticized the judges and the audience for having such a stereotypical expectation from someone who did not look chiseled or "beautified." I ask again: why?
Allow me to tell you a personal story which may clarify my point in this matter. Susan Boyle, after all, has become the biggest thing going in cyberspace the world over.
I spent years in cities that were considered places where popular music put forward stars. Also during those years I was executive director of a national program connected to the Smithsonian about early or "classical" jazz. I knew talent when I saw it, but saw very little of it on the national stage. Why? Because of people like Simon Cowell, people who were making decisions about who was to be a star today. Decision-makers who knew something about marketing and duping the public, but knew very little about real talent. In my role in early jazz music, I met some of the legends, including some outside the jazz genre, people like Frank Sinatra. I knew a singer with talent. But the decision-makers who made today's stars knew very little about real talent. One of the last people to have a say in this role who actually DID know talent, was Quncy Jones. But he has left the decision-making center.
When I moved back to Milwaukee, I had bought the idea that there were few talented people left in show business, especially in the recording industry. I listened to the crap that everybody else did, and I determined we had hit a low ebb regarding talent. In fact, the music industry was promoting music that wasn't music at all: rap and hip-hop. Yes, it may have a place in the American scene with its message sometimes, but it was not music. Back in Milwaukee I found out otherwise.
Almost my first evening back in town I went to a hotel lounge and heard a splendidly talented piano man. And after several nights enjoying him, he brought in a woman to sing now and then. She was exceptional. But people sat drinking their drinks, not paying any attention to either of them. After all, they had not been anointed by the likes of a Simon Cowell or some rap promoter. Who cared if these local people had talent or not? Soon afterward I heard a local jazz pianist, and he was the equal of some of the outstanding jazz piano players we brought into Washington from around the country and Canada for the Smithsonian project. All these talented people I began to experience in Milwaukee scraped by with other jobs to make ends meet. But talented they were/are. But who understood talent if it didn't have a national promotion?
So, when Simon Cowell looked so surprised by Susan Boyle's lovely voice, when the 3 judges were amazed that such a marvelous voice came out of that frumpy face and body, they gave evidence of the fact that they simply do not know what in the heck is going on. There is talent like that all over the world, and it is not so surprising that I found loads of it in an obscure city like Milwaukee.
Mr. Cowell, open your eyes and ears to the talent that surrounds you every day. It sometimes comes in less fashionable clothes or coifs. Unlike you, many of us do not want to spend a fortune trying to look casual or informal, we either are formal or we are casual, period. It is sad that the various music venues of the world are dependent on people like you to make judgments about who gets air play and who doesn't. The response to Susan Boyle from around the world indicates that you have no clue about what is good music, what is talent, and what it even looks like. Your one-dimensional marketing decisions have little or no connection to what people with taste like or want.