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The Family Room by Michelle Martin

April 26, 2009

Who's got talent?

Have you watched the video of Susan Boyle yet? Susan who? you ask.

Boyle, 47, is an unemployed church volunteer in a Scottish village who took the stage April11 on “Britain’s Got Talent,” similar to the American show of the same name. The viedo has become one of the most-watched clips on YouTube (100 million views in nine days), and Boyle has appeared on American the Today Show and Good Morning America, among other programs.

She walked onto the stage looking like everyone’s maiden aunt (OK, like my Aunt Jul), in a dress she reportedly bought for her nephew’s wedding. She was so far from the audience’s and judges’ idea of a potential star that her very appearance drew giggles and eye-rolls. It only got worse when her nerves manifested themselves in a certain sassiness, as the judges looked like they couldn’t believe this woman would humiliate herself by trying to sing on television.

Then the music started, and Boyle sang, and the audience was amazed. Judge Simon Cowell’s jaw literally dropped, and he wasn’t the only one. The camera panned the audience as she sang “I Dreamed a Dream” from “Les Miserables,” and many sat stunned.

After Boyle’s performance, judge Amanda Holden told her that the judges were “cynical” about her until she started to sing.

The question is, why was everyone so surprised? And why are we all so happy — not so much for Susan Boyle, I think, but for us?

After all, it’s not that Boyle hid her talent. According to the “Britain’s Got Talent” Web site, she’s been singing in church choirs since she was 12, and Britain’s Daily Record newspaper posted a recording of her singing “Cry Me a River” at a 1999 charity event.

On “Britain’s Got Talent,” when Simon Cowell asked why her dream of being a professional singer had never worked out, she said it was because she never had a chance, not that she had never tried.

Boyle, apparently, has never been one to hide her light under a bushel basket. She has been searching out the highest hills she can find so that she can let it shine.

When she auditioned for “Britain’s Got Talent,” she found a hill that was plenty high.

I think the rest of us are happy, for her and for us, because hers is a story that we all want to come true. We all want to believe that something like that could happen to us, that we could be discovered, and that talent will carry the day.

We might not look like 20-something pop stars either, we think, but just maybe, if someone gave us a chance, we could shine, too.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m pretty sure I don’t have a God-given talent as big as Susan Boyle’s, but I am glad she took the steps she did to share it with us.

But now, after the initial amazement, comes all the chatter: should she get a makeover? would that be selling out? Everyone has an opinion.

The one that counts is hers. I think, since she wanted to be a professional singer, she knows presenting herself well is part of the job, and she wouldn’t mind some help with that. But that doesn’t mean not being true to herself.

Martin is assistant editor of the Catholic New World. Contact her at [email protected].