Our Seabiscuit

Susan Boyle. Oh, Susan BOYLE. By now the whole world has seen her oft-twittered, ravenously circulated rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” on Britain’s Got Talent. If not, well, Google it.

Susan Boyle is the biggest viral success story since Facebook’s “25 Random Things.” She’s certainly the biggest viral success story ever to come out of Blackburn, West Lothian, Scotland.

Oh, Susan Boyle. Why are we going absolutely crazy for you? Why did you make Simon Cowell look more smitten than Ryan Seacrest introducing Adam Lambert? Why is Ashton Kutcher posting amorous tweets about you? Why does Oprah want you to come on her show? Why am I writing a blog post about you?

Here are a few guesses:

  • We love something that breaks through our cynicism and truly surprises us. Susan “I live alone with my cat Pebbles” Boyle got on that stage, looking remarkably like Brenda “bird lady vagrant from Home Alone 2” Fricker, and sang her heart out. And she sang well.
  • Susan Boyle is the Seabiscuit of our time. Like that horse in the Tobey Maguire movie who was some sort of metaphorical glimmer of hope in a depressed economy, Susan Boyle is a 47-year-old bastion of light that we can all (via our laptop water coolers) rally around.
  • The song. Don’t underestimate song choice, as Simon would say. “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables is the perfect song for this woman. She’s never been kissed, for goodness sake! Of course we are going to be moved when she sings, “And still I dream he'll come to me / And we will live our lives together / But there are dreams that cannot be / And there are storms / We cannot weather...” It is ironic, though, that such a sad song could become such an iconic, joyful anthem in this context.
  • The Britishness. Maybe it was just me, but the whole thing evoked that thoroughly hard-nosed English spirit—that wonderfully stiff-upper lip, “Victory at all costs,” WWII-era, Churchill-esque affable determination. I mean, here’s a woman who epitomizes the cat lady. She should be at home, sad, resigned to a life of soap operas and knitting wool blankets. But instead she bravely ventured out and launched herself into the pantheon of worldwide Internet celebrity. And she didn’t sacrifice any of her scruples in the process.
  • It’s why we love reality TV. Susan Boyle is one of us. She’s our first grade teacher. She’s the organist at church (in fact, she does volunteer at her Scottish church). She was plucked from obscurity and is now thrilling audiences the world over. It’s a rags to riches fairy tale.
  • Susan Boyle represents a triumph of talent over looks. The judges’ and audience members' judgmental faces before she started singing are symptomatic of our tendency to over-value appearance, even in a talent competition. But once she started singing, it was a slap in the face reminder that, oh yeah, there can be legitimate beauty and artistry without physical attractiveness.
  • Susan Boyle appears to be totally sincere, unpretentious, and joyful. Her countenance—even while singing a very sad song—was constantly ebullient. She was also modest. Most contestants on these shows have a skewed sense of self-importance. Susan Boyle had the opposite—humility where she deserved pride. And it’s reassuring to know that people like that still exist.