susan boyle and the lesson we should all learn – again

susan-boyle-UK Telegraph

Have you seen this video of Susan Boyle – from Britain’s Got Talent? She has a very unique story: 47 years old, charity worker, and never been kissed or on a date; Currently unemployed; and her previous singing experience was limited to the church choir and karaoke!

She was starved of oxygen at birth and has learning difficulties as a result. At school she was slow and had frizzy hair. She was bullied, mostly verbally. She told one newspaper that her classmates’ jibes left behind the kind of scars that don’t heal.

She didn’t have boyfriends, is a stranger to romance and has never been kissed. “Shame,” she said. Singing was her life-raft.

She lived with her parents in a four-bedroom council house and, when her father died a decade ago, she cared for her mother and sang in the church choir. [source]

I guess I have a soft spot with these things – but what I love the most isn’t just merely the discovery of someone with extraordinary talent but the humbling and inspiration that takes place…in all of us. There are lessons to be learned.

Notice the sneers, looks, judgments, and assumptions that nearly everyone makes – including the respective judges.  The change of “perception” (judgment? -> wonder) in the faces of the judges – especially Simon Cowell – are a sight to see.  And to be fair to them, I get it…


It’s pretty simple – she isn’t pretty. She doesn’t look the part.  She doesn’t look like an entertainer.  She doesn’t look charismatic.   And so it begs the questions:

  • Why do we trust our  perception and judgment so much?
  • Why are we so married to looks?
  • Why are we enamored and at times, fooled by “dress for success” or “look the part?” [Think of the film, Catch me if You Can…]
  • What is the balance?

I know I fall prey to this trap as well.  I’m not saying there isn’t value in appearance and professionalism but it’s the condemnation that we should denounce.  The instant judgment.  This is a familiar story, isn’t it?  I’m not talking about Paul Potts (another winning contestant in Britain’s Got Talent) but for us as Christians, Jesus wasn’t the most attractive dude with the most impressive lineage and resume.

How familiar?  Consider these words:

Can anything good come from Nazareth? – John 1:46

and the words from Isaiah 53:2-3

He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by others,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

And one of my favorite verses & stories from 1 Samuel 16:7.  I can’t speak for others.  God has extended His grace to me but there are times, I am fooled and do not extend this grace to others.  God, Give me your eyes, ears, and heart…

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things human beings look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

or check out the translation from “The Message”:

But God told Samuel, “Looks aren’t everything. Don’t be impressed with his looks and stature. I’ve already eliminated him. God judges persons differently than humans do. Men and women look at the face; God looks into the heart.”

Here is the full video:

Her voice is beautiful but her story may even trump it (via UK Telegraph):

Miss Boyle, who admits she has never been kissed, astonished the judges at the auditions for ITV1 show with her rendition of I Dreamed A Dream from Les Miserables. The clip of her audition has been viewed 2,485,245 times in 72 hours.

The 47 year old charity worker from West Lothian, announced from the stage that her dream was to emulate West End star Elaine Paige.

Her eccentric ways and less than polished appearance drew snickers from the audience when she initially appeared but they were mesmerised from the moment she broke into song and gave her a standing ovation.

Simon Cowell pronounced her voice “extraordinary” and Amanda Holden was reduced to tears by hearing her sing. Piers Morgan, their fellow judge, said the performance was “without a doubt the biggest surprise I have had in three years of this show”.

Miss Boyle, who says she has never been on a date or even been kissed, is now the favourite to win the 2009 series of Britain’s Got Talent.


And here’s the lyrics to the song she sang entitled, I Dream a Dream, from Les Miserables:

I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high
And life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving.

Then I was young and unafraid
And dreams were made and used
And wasted
There was no ransom to be paid
No song unsung
No wine untasted.

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

And still
I dream he’ll come to me
That we will live the years together
But there are dreams that cannot be
And there are storms
We cannot weather…

I had a dream my life would be
So different form this hell I’m living
so different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed
The dream I dreamed.


52 Replies to “susan boyle and the lesson we should all learn – again”

  1. That’s awesome! I’ve both seen and experienced the whole “appearance” thing. It saddens me greatly how people can be so focused on looks, and overlook an amazing man or woman.

  2. Go Susan. Go. You are brave.

    Unfortunately, the applause comes from remarkable talent that exists in spite of appearance. Thus, the looks get “overlooked”, so to speak. It’s as if it is completely shocking that someone who doesn’t fit a public beauty mold can have rare public gifts.

    Distressing. I hope this woman isn’t crushed in the resultant media storm. But I also hope this situation can serve as a reflection-causing critique for our society that is so stupidly entranced by visuals. God help us all when appearances define our acceptability.

  3. What a touching video; she seems so unphased by it all. I also think she gets more targeted by ridicule as a woman, more than Paul Potts. In my cynical view, it seems that it’s slightly more offensive, in this society, to be ugly/aged as a woman than as a man.

    Inspiring, nonetheless, and a great reminder for all of us. Thanks.

  4. What a coincidence.

    Singing “I Dreamed a Dream” from the musical “Les Miserables,” a song about a hard-luck woman whose years of misfortune have stolen both her youth and her dreams, Boyle brought the audience to tears and prompted a standing ovation.

  5. Listening to this, with tears in my eyes, and a chill to the skin, I kept thinking (as Frank mentioned above) about “Les Miserables”, and the character who sings “I Dreamed a Dream”. What a gorgeous example of the spirit — of the beauty of the soul. And yet, a clear example of how we repeatedly approach what society tells our eyes is “beautiful”, “attractive” and “worthy of praise”.

    How unfortunate it is that the judges and audience couldn’t look at Susan Boyles as simply another contestant — that immediately her looks, and labels of “unemployed”, “single”, “never been married”, “never been kissed”, are immediately what she is recognized as and categorized as, and then ridiculed for.

    A beautiful example of how shocking it can be to recognize true beauty — that of a strong and brave spirit, a courageous heart that is willing to explore her own gifts.

    It makes me wonder: how more humane would we humans be if we couldn’t see? If we approached people by their tone of voice, their speech, their actions, rather than by what they wore and what they looked like. But — since we are graciously given the gift of sight by the Father — how can we use this gift as a blessing to all, not allowing ourselves to conform to societal regulations of what looks normal, instead conforming to what looks beautiful in God’s eyes? How do we get to seeing all humans the way God sees them?

    Thank you, PE, for sharing.

  6. The thing that struck me most was the reaction of the crowd at the beginning. Rather than seeing scorn, I actually saw fear. I think the sneers represented the fear inside everyone to stand up in front of the whole world and be judged. And the fact that Susan overcame that and brought on the standing ovation was a celebration of relief from the audience that there is hope- that maybe we will learn from this not to make assumptions from appearances. Very inspiring.

  7. I watched and came to tears, in part because of her courage and voice, and also because she chose a piece from “Les Miserables,” a powerful tale with powerful music…wow

  8. What a stunning voice. I love it! Yes it is very sad that in our society nowadays, our physical appearance is targeted for judgment rather than the true beauty inside of us. God created mankind equally and we’re all beautiful to the eyes of our Father in Heaven. May God help her dream comes true.

    Thanks for sharing Pastor Eugene.

  9. Just remember…the next time you see someone who looks like they have nothing to offer the world…listen to their song. It may not have accompaniment or a tune…but their LifeSong may be the most beautiful thing you have ever heard! This is AMAZING!

  10. I have watched that video at least 10 times now. Susan Boyle is courageous, if I’d seen that disdain, I’d have walked off the stage. There is nothing like being an ugly girl to learn not to judge others for their appearance. The way we look is how God made us. What we are on the inside is the only part we should be worrying about.


  11. Reminds me of Paul Potts, who blew everyone away with “Nessun Dorma.” Here’s “Time To Say Goodbye” but I love the interview with him, where he says, “I realized I *am* somebody.”

  12. Stunningly inspirational! Yet, I wonder how would people have reacted had she not sung very well? She’s still a child of G-d & our sister in Christ. An important lesson that must always inform my ‘judgments’. Thanks for the schooling.

  13. We can criticize the judges and the audience all we want, but the fact is that situations such as these are what shows like “Britain’s Got Talent” are created for. These shows meet the needs of audiences that crave the sight of seeing “other” people humiliated, minus the few underdog stories that “inspire.” But inspire at what cost? Be pretty, because if you’re not, you better have something else going for you, otherwise you are less than worthy of our attention.

    We definitely need to address the source of this injustice, our own insecurities and pride, which drive demand for these kinds of shows, as well as the media conglomorates that perpetuate these cycles of humiliation and self-gratification.

  14. Eugene,

    You raised a series of related questions, which I will attempt to sum up as, “Why is physical appearance so important?”

    While it is a sad fact of life that people get judged unfairly for their looks, the rationale seems straightforward, albeit rather Darwinistic.

    The perception is that beauty is positively correlated with health. Moreover, health is perceived as desired trait as it leads to greater reproductive success.

    Of course, this is a rather ham-fisted, reductionistic account, and I do understand that there is another, more transcendent way of recognizing beauty. But when it comes to eye-balling an individual, I think one’s judgments are motivated from baser intuitions.

    Hey, at least we don’t think that ugly people are morally defective, or cursed by God.

  15. Quote by CS Lewis in The Weight Of Glory.

    “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal , and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with , work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of the kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. and our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in sprite of which we love the sinner – no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbor, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat – the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.”

  16. @james

    While I understand where you’re going with the biology of attraction, and have thought of it many times myself…

    I dont think it applies cross-culturally. We have to get out of our American perspective of biology. But even then, with the way what is beautiful has changed lately….Why in dominate (read:white) American culture is the extremely skinny, waifish look so valued? That is highly unhealthy and would not bode well for child bearing.

    In other cultures, the ankle is erotic and attractive, or the hair. I dont see those attributing to the health of the woman.

    Rather what would go with the biology of attraction would be a thick woman with good hips. We whites just dont get it! 😉

  17. Anne,

    Thanks for the reply. After mulling it over, it seems to me that the biological approach is probably not the best way to think about this issue. What might be better is to frame our preoccupation with beauty within the context of social values.

    But first, in response to your question, I think that pinning down a firm notion of health will be just as difficult as trying to provide a substantive definition of beauty that is applicable across time and space. Heroin chic is probably attractive now because we live in such an obese and gluttonous culture. Around 500 years ago, being slightly overweight was very attractive, as evidenced in Renaissance era paintings. I would imagine that this was the case because food was a little harder to come by.

    Anyways, whatever our notion of physical beauty is now, it seems clear that we are unhealthily focused on it. I think this is basically Eugene’s concern. Why is there such a disproportionate amount of attention on physical beauty?

    My (new) guess is that such an obsession is fueled largely by a certain type of cultural value set. Living in the uber-capitalistic society that we do, two fundamental values that permeate our culture are the values of consumption and production. We are taught that just about everything that we do should fall into one of those two categories. Furthermore, all (or almost all) of our actions are understood in terms of either.

    How does beauty fit in? I think we inherently desire to consume desire to consume things that are beautiful or associated with beauty. As a result, those who produce will produce beautiful things.

    Now we are in a position where we can generalize. Our inordinate preoccupation with beauty doesn’t just apply to beautiful people, but to just about everything. And by ‘beauty’ I don’t just mean visually appealing, but appealing to any combination of the five senses.

    Now, an over-occupation with beauty seems to imply that there is a neglect of attention on other things. This is where I think the core of the concern lies. We desire to consume things that are beautiful to us, even if these things are potentially harmful, just like a child desires to consume massive amounts of candy, which tastes great but afford little in nutritional value. Likewise, we are averse to consuming things that are ugly to us, even if they are beneficial in other ways. Again, kids don’t like eating vegetables, even though vegetables are nutritious foods par excellence.

    Given these tendencies, those who are in a position to produce and sell have incentives to produce things that are appealing to the senses while neglecting other qualities. This can be summed up in the cliche, “Style over substance.”

    This sort of phenomenon can be seen at many churches. People want to see fancy media and slick powerpoint presentations, even if the sermons are platitudinous. People don’t want to hear a challenging and theologically substantive sermon delivered with no media by someone with no skill in rhetoric. Likewise, people love to sing songs that have pretty melodies and loud guitars, even if the lyrics are theologically shallow and even (gasp!) false.

    So while we may cheer for Susan Boyle and boo at Simon Cowell, we are really in no better of a moral position. Why? Because we are complicit in perpetuating a system that creates and reinforces those Cowell-like attitudes, i.e. attitudes that associate consumption and production with beauty.

  18. Seriously…apparently James has not considered all of the research that has been poured out that reveals that people desire High Expectations (a la Rainer’s text) and do not want shallow sermons nor shallow worship.

    I think there is far too much deep discussion using words that even the writer doesn’t fully comprehend to establish the fact that what came out of Susan’s mouth is not what was expected simply because of the way she looks. Pure ad simple. Certainly we can dbate “why” we think that…but Capitalism is the FURTHEST thing from the point.

    And to say that “slightly overweight” being seen as healthy and beautiful 500 years ago because of Renaissance Art depictions is like saying Big Macs are because they’re in Technicolor!

    I think maybe we need to just settle on saying…we are all messed up because we have gotten away from the notion that God looks upon the inside…we need to be striving to be more like Him…and how arogant of us to assume we know beauty when He is the one who created it.

    Coincidentally…he understands the words that have been shared…big and small…he invented your brain!

  19. I feel like going all “Will Hunting” on someone…don’t bring your textbook lovin’ rheotric that some professor spewed to you in a lecture hall on campus somewhere in Sociology 101…give an original thought of your own.

  20. Stephen,

    You’re probably right that nothing that I say is original. It is really tough to come up with a truly original (i.e. non-derivative) idea these days; which sucks for me, because that’s exactly what I need to do in order to graduate. But that’s neither here nor there.

    I’m not sure if originality is appropriate metric here to judge a claim that I or anyone else makes. Rather, it seems that the appropriate way to assess these claims is by their plausibility and explanatory power.

    I think that what I say satisfies both desiderata. However, it seems clear that you disagree. Again, you are right in pointing out that empirical data may help to settle this dispute.

    My claim was the following:

    1. Americans adopt consumption and production as core values, i.e. they believe that most of their actions should either be productive or consumptive.

    2. Americans tend to consume or produce what they believe to be beautiful, and tend to not consume or produce what they believe to be ugly.

    You point out that this isn’t the case when it comes to religious practice. You claim that people do not desire shallow sermons, nor do they desire shallow worship. I agree. But that wasn’t my claim. Here are four options:

    1. Pretty and substantive worship
    2. Pretty and non-substantive worship
    3. Not-pretty and substantive worship
    4. Not-pretty and not-substantive worship

    I assume that everyone agrees that (1) is desirable and that (4) is undesirable. My claim is that most people desire (2) over (3), and that this desire is evidenced not by their words, but by their actions, which in this case would be church attendance.

    A draw evidence for this claim from the worships that I’ve seen in churches like Lakewood, Willow Creek, Saddleback, North Point, and Potter’s House, all of which are in the top ten in congregation size. The worship and sermons in those churches didn’t strike me as being very substantive, but perhaps I have too high of a standard.

    Maybe I’m wrongheaded in generalizing. Perhaps our attitudes about the physical beauty possessed by humans is explained by something altogether different from the analysis that I proposed above.

    What concerns me, though, is that your explanation doesn’t really explain much. You state that “we have gotten away from the notion that God looks upon the inside.” How and why did that occur? Secondly, you suggest that “we need to be striving to be more like Him.” Again, how are we to do that?

  21. Stephen,

    Also, I think you misunderstood my point about beauty and Renaissance paintings. My point was that painters during the Renaissance period depicted full figured women because that’s what they considered to be a beautiful quality. I might be wrong about this, but if I am, your analogy regarding Big Macs in Technicolor wouldn’t show that.

  22. Can I say take a good look at Barack Obama!That ain’t no picture perfect either if you ask most of us….
    You go girl…more power to you. And when all the Hollywood chicks and some dudes have no makeup….not a pretty picture either! So my feeling is live a little… thin out and lighten those eyebrows.Maybe just blow out that hair a bit….But stay true to yourself….always! As your Mother told you to “Take the Risk” you may like it… but we would get great joy in you looking your Hottest….It sure won’t change that dynamite voice of yours…you are giving Elaine Paige a run for her money….also! P.S. look for a honest agent….your going to need one….Kisses

  23. So are we going to remember this in real life? Next time you find yourself avoiding the discomfort of someone awkward, looking away from someone you don’t find attractive to someone more pleasing to your eye – what are you going to do then? What will we do when it’s not easy to make room front and center for people who are usually dismissed and invisible? I hope to be more aware, and I hope I choose to step outside of my carefully preserved – and more often than I’d like to admit, exclusive – comfort zone.

  24. today at church, the woman preaching wove Susan Doyle’s story into her response to a congregant’s question: Why are Christians so ‘square’? It was a good word and she made an interesting comparison between the church and Ms. Boyle – from the outside we often look pretty square but empowered by the Holy Spirit we should be wowing people. I doubt Ms. Boyle ever thought she’d be influencing a sermon in Bellevue, WA…hers is a great story, and what a redemptive story she chose music from.

  25. Technology (videos etc.) have a way of capturing and balancing the “treasured moments” for everybody in the same scenario…I sincerely wish the best for Susan. On the other hand, the same video clip will be enough to remind everyone during that presentation if their anticipations, presumptions and prejudice is necessary …and they too may may long remember this turning-point for all of us.

  26. Susan Boyle,

    You rock the world with your amazing voice which will echo throughout history because you have kindled a fire that will never stop burning. You are absolutely a star of fame and fortune and an inspiration to all!

  27. Susan Boyle speaks to too much that is not a part of our media, the real fairy tale and not the media construct however hard the flacks are flogging her now. Even if the whole thing was plotted up in advance, it makes Boyle no less real. ALL CAPS TALENT RULES

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