June 6, 2009
The Canberra Times

Devoured in dream dash

What is it with Susan Boyle? The come- from-nowhere singing sensation, who took Britain and the world by storm, is in a funk. She’s now “resting” in an upmarket psychiatric clinic, after police were called to her hotel room on the night of her last television performance.

Is this a case of silly, simpleton Susan just going off the boil? Did she lose the plot, or was she pushed? Is the talent program that made her an “insta-star” to blame? Does it have a duty of care to nurse those novices, desperately hungry for fame, through the maze of media manipulations and public pummelling? Or is it the audience’s fault, for getting bored with Boyle, and callously voting her down?

If you’ve been too busy to bother with tabloid media over the past month, you may not have caught up with news of the virgin, spinster superstar they call the “hairy angel”. How could we have missed her?

Video of Boyle singing I Dreamed a Dream on the TV show Britain’s Got Talent has been downloaded nearly 200 million times on the internet, which apparently makes her the most downloaded woman in history.Her performance has had 30million hits on YouTube, making her even bigger than Barack Obama. She’s been on the Oprah show, and interviewed by Larry King. The Simpsons has done a spoof on her, and so too has SouthPark.

And all this because Boyle is … a freak. The strength and magnificence of her voice is stunning. But what makes her performance so mind- blowing is the spectacle of Simple Susan.

Boyle is a 48-year-old Scottish spinster, who is unemployed and lives alone with her cat Pebbles. She does voluntary work at her local church in West Lothian, Scotland. And although she appears to have been living a very quiet life, Boyle’s harboured a big dream ever since she was a little girl.

On the night of her first performance, in front of nine million television viewers, Boyle told the judges she wanted to be a professional singer. Everyone laughed, the judges stifled scoffs, and one grimaced. Some in the audience even covered their eyes. Boyle looked like a train wreck about to happen.

Not your classic beauty, Boyle would be right at home in Mt Isa. Remember the place where the local major called on the “beauty disadvantaged” to move to town? Well, Boyle fits that bill. She’s overweight, frumpy, has a rolling double chin and beady eyes. She giggled as she told an interviewer that she’d never been kissed before. Which of course is no mark of a woman, but it adds fodder to the feeling that she is probably a rather lonely soul.Boyle was – according to Britain’s investigative tabloids – apparently “starved of oxygen at birth”, and consequently suffers from mild “learning difficulties”. But my goodness, she was mighty quick to learn how vicious and vacuous celebrity can be.

Although she was an odds-on- certainty to win the talent quest final last weekend, a day or so before Sunday’s appearance, Boyle was reportedly getting a bit tetchy. She snapped at some producers and apparently yelled at the television.

Now, in the world of megastar celebrity such behaviour wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. If anything – it would be expected. But it seems the rules are very different for the global “insta-stars”, who are adored for their downright ordinariness. And their ugliness.The watching world wanted Susan Boyle to remain sweet and simple and a frumpy freak. We delighted in the fact that she didn’t know what a “makeover” was, and thought a dash of blue eye-shadow meant she was all glammed up.

The way she wiggled her large hips at one of the judges, and tried a bit of girly flirting, just made her all the more endearing.

She had no idea how ridiculous she looked. All of which made her positively lovable: an unaffected, unassuming superstar, who was enjoying herself immensely.She didn’t seem to know that she was wearing drab stockings that showed off her cankles. Or that her unruly hair looked like an unkempt mop.

Indeed, Boyle’s dumb ignorance of celebrity culture made her – for a moment – the world’s most novel star. But novelty wears off.

As media managers, celebrity agents, stylists, record producers, tour organisers and TV executives gathered around Boyle, waving money and brandishing multi- million dollar contracts, she began a polite meltdown. She’d never had so many new “best friends”.

In perhaps the saddest moment of all, Boyle told the media her sudden fame meant “I won’t be lonely any more”.But news of her so-called “tantrum” behind stage gave everyone an out. Suddenly, she wasn’t such a sweet star at all. Just a scrubber with a big voice.When Boyle lost the final and was voted second, the explosive energy of expectation must have done her head in. She apparently yelled at someone that she “hated this show”.

And who can blame her? It pumped her up, poked her hard, then spat her out when she started losing puff.

Naturally, the audience loved it.

Virginia Haussegger is a Canberra journalist and director of the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation at the University of Canberra.

Related Media

May 1, 2024
Future Woman podcast
Hear Virginia on Future Woman with Helen McCabe
March 31, 2024
Our Radicals and Revolutionaries: Women’s Liberation
The chaps from ASIO were hiding across the road from the Canning Street house in Ainslie. None of the eight...
March 9, 2024
Meta may not care about Australian news but it’s the soul of our communities
I once rang a convent of catholic nuns in Melbourne, to ask if the Sister in charge might have a...
February 17, 2024
Joining the ‘first lady’ club: oh Jodie, what have you done?
So Jodie Haydon said ‘yes’, right at a time when women around the globe are increasingly saying ‘no’ to marriage....
August 14, 2023
Radicals, Rebels and Reformers: a clarion call from the Sisterhood
Oh, they were mad! Furious. Those wild ‘women’s libbers’. Noisy as hell and heading for the Canberra Times, driven by...
July 24, 2023
Barbie lands an unresolved feminist rant, but the joke is on us!
There is a fabulous moment in the history of the Canberra Women’s Movement when over a hundred furious feminists barged...