Monday, April 20, 2009

A Closer Look at the Susan Boyle Effect

Susan Boyle continues to be a story, at many levels.
According to Visible Measures, which tracks videos from YouTube, MySpace and other video-sharing sites, all Boyle-oriented videos -- including clips of her television interviews and her recently released rendition of "Cry Me a River," recorded 10 years ago for a charity CD -- have generated a total of 85.2 million views. Nearly 20 million of those views came overnight.

The seven-minute video that was first posted on YouTube and then widely circulated online easily eclipsed more high-profile videos that have been around for months. Tina Fey's impersonation of Sarah Palin has clocked in 34.2 million views, said the folks at Visible Measures, while President Obama's victory speech on election night has generated 18.5 million views.

But it's not just in online video where Boyle, the unassuming woman from a tiny Scottish town, has dominated. Her Wikipedia entry has attracted nearly 500,000 page views since it was created last Sunday. Over the weekend, her Facebook fan page was flooded with comments, at some points adding hundreds of new members every few minutes. The page listed 150,000 members at 1 p.m. Friday. By last night there were more than a million.
"Scottish Singer Susan Boyle's Web Popularity Is at Numbers Never Seen Before," Washington Post, 4/20/09.

I'm one of those who have been totally taken by Susan Boyle and her story. I'm not easily impressed with performers, but to my ear, her voice and style are the real deal.

Her version of "Cry Me a River" would hold up against anyone.

What is most remarkable to me is that she has made it this far. Were she to have grown up in America, her career would likely have been stymied any number of times:

1. She might not have gotten singing lessons. Most families don't invest in professional vocal training for their children.

2. Even if she had gotten some lessons, if she wasn't turning out to be a cute child or teen, she might have been discouraged by her family from pursuing singing on the assumption that vocal talent alone is not enough.

3. If she had continued with her professional training, but she hadn't broken into show business by the time she was in her early 20s, she probably would have been told she was now too old to "make it."

4. And finally, she might have been told not to enter Britain's Got Talent because she wouldn't stand a chance and would only expose herself to ridicule. I don't watch these contests because I don't like to see people humiliated. The whole concept of putting untalented people on camera and insulting them makes me uncomfortable. Of course, that's the part that has pulled so many people in. Everyone expected her to be ridiculed, but talent won out.

We're hooked on Susan Boyle because she triumphed over a number of adversities. Not necessarily devastating problems, like surviving a terrible accident. Rather, her story is more about the postponed and often unachievable dreams we all have.

And even if there had been no backstory, she's got a hell of a voice that deserves to be widely heard.

Suzanne Lainson


  1. "Were she to have grown up in America, her career would likely have been stymied any number of times"

    Umm...yeah. Why not follow this up with all the possible obstacles that could have prevented her success if she grew up as a Tupi in the middle of the rainforest?

  2. I'm not sure if the story would have been different had she grown up in the States. I think talent does usually rise to the top but it sometimes takes time.

    Look at the career of Little Jimmy Scott, who had his greatest successes as a senior citizen, but is still unknown to most people, despite his influence on artists from Marvin Gaye to Madonna.

    Here's an as yet undiscovered talent I like a lot: Jeffrey Paul Bobrick, singer and songwriter...and an American! You can find him here:


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