I, like so many others, went to Youtube and clicked on “Britain’s Got Talent” the Monday after Susan Boyle's audition back in the spring of 2009. It was our assistant who told me to watch it and like so many similar enticements by people all over the world she prefaced it with nothing. All she said was, “You should see this video”. She knew how not to ruin the surprise. I was sucked in like everyone else in that theater audience smirking at the absurdity before me. I expected a real laugh. We have all been seduced into this familiar scenario, goofy contestant comes out for total humiliation and we all laugh at their expense and their audacity to think they have any talent at all.
Here comes frumpy Susan with the inappropriate swish of the hips indicative of someone so painfully socially awkward. How could anyone this unschooled in cool be anything other than a total loser? And at forty-eight if no one had discovered her talent she couldn’t possibly have any, could she?
She nodded to the men off stage to cue the music. The orchestral strains of; “I Dreamed a Dream” introed what we all thought would be the world's next William Hong. There was a split second that perpetuated the hoax of her eminent failure when she gave that little smile and appeared to clear her throat, the way an amateur schoolgirl would as she nervously stepped forward for her humiliating solo at a middle school Christmas concert. And then she sang. She sang with crystal clarity and total confidence. Her notes broke loose with a boldness so totally in contrast to her persona that there was a collective jaw drop before everyone rose to their feet in the delight of being so wonderfully duped. It was the triumph of the underdog that produced the lump in our collective throats. She made it possible for all of us to see ourselves as potential winners. It made us look at ourselves as if we too could have undiscovered special talents.
I must admit I still go back and watch that Youtube clip. I always pick the long version, the one that goes on for seven minutes and includes the pre-audition interviews and the judge’s comments. I still get chills when I hear her approach and hit those unimaginable notes on the crescendo of “turning your dream to sha – a – a – a - ame”. Then the lump in my throat forms time after time with the lyric, “I had a dream my life would be, So different from this hell I’m living”. It’s a lump formed not from the thought of where I might be now, but from the hope it engenders because of how it mimics the life of the woman who is singing it. With Susan’s courageous voice it becomes an harbinger of change. It is the miracle of witnessing the exact moment when someone’s life became something better than what it had previously been. It’s why I return to it time after time on my computer when things get really low. As schmaltzy as it may be, it grabs me by the shoulders and spins me around. It turns my back on defeat. It points me toward hope. It makes me want to persevere.
So many of us are ugly ducklings just waiting to be swans.