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On Susan Boyle, the British singing sensation

April 21, 2009

As most know by now, Susan Boyle- an unemployed, frumpy, unmarried, forty-seven year old woman- shocked the judges and audience of the “Britain’s Got Talent” show, and via a myriad of broadcast media, astounded the world with her rendition of “I dreamed a dream” from Les Miserables.

It was clear from clips preceding her performance that the audience and judges considered her to be a ridiculous figure, and were almost embarrassed by the gawky, unlikely, middle-aged spectacle before them. What happened next was a miracle.

As the first, unearthly beautiful notes filled the gigantic hall, the audience reacted in shock- some actually dropping their jaws as the pure beauty of Susan’s singing flowed over them. She began singing the words, “I dreamed a dream” at an almost conversational volume, but the words were undergirded by an extraordinary confidence. She seemed to be in perfect control of a power of song, of the power of this song. She was not merely a woman singing a song, but a human soul filling the receptacle of a song, a gift of God mediated to men by a middle-aged woman from Blighton. But it was just the beginning.

As the song progressed, she exhibited a consumate control of a musical force that was powerfully building in the auditorium. Imagine a nuclear powerplant as the control rods are withdrawn, and transfer that image to the world of music:

But the tigers come at night,
With their voices soft as thunder,
As they tear your hopes apart,
As they turn your dream to shame.

Susan was not putting this song on like a shawl, she was living in the song, this woman who had waited forty seven years to be noticed- who had just faced an audience who were expecting her dream to end in ashes and shame. But she still had hope, and she took on the world alone, and she took it by storm.

Her final, clear, powerful, sweet notes settled over the audience like a benediction, the song was over, and she headed for stage right- probably knowing she had sung well, but I suspect not comprehending the magnitude of what she had just done. Listening to her sing was like glimpsing a piece of heaven. And for the audience- humility and redemption.

She seemed to smile at the young ladies in the crowd who had been making faces when she said she would like to be a singer like Elaine Paige. And it was a smile of warmth, and of acceptance. When the song began, it was Susan against a derisive world. When it ended, everyone was on the same side.

It is a strange thing, but now when I look at Susan Boyle, she seems beautiful to me.

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