What if Susan Boyle Had Stunk?


The Susan Boyle phenomenon happened in the middle of Passover at which time observant Jews are unplugged from technology for the first two days and last two days of the holiday (similar to the Sabbath), and yet that name kept popping up during the brief time that I was plugged-in I just had to see for myself what all the fuss was about.Her voice was as beautiful as it was surprising. Seeing her triumph over the critics was exhilarating. But in the middle of her performance I started to wonder what would have happened if Susan Boyle had been mediocre or even downright awful?

She would have been jeered and booed by the live audience and probably laughed at by many viewers watching from home. Most of us would have never heard her name, unless of course she shtank so badly that the video of her singing went viral for the sole purpose of ridiculing her.

So why was she spared from the meanness? Why was she an inspiration instead of a humiliation? Because she had been granted a beautiful voice. I’m sure she worked on it and honed that voice over the years, but a lovely voice, just like beauty, intelligence, and wit are all God-given. 

When we are complimented for possessing qualities such as these, society tells us to say “thank you,” but in truth, we should say  “thank God”.  (We are so trained to take credit for such attributes, can you imagine how obnoxious a woman would sound if upon being told she was beautiful she responded with “thank God”?!)

Susan Boyle’s inner qualities – honesty, generosity, compassion are unknown to us and have no real value when it comes to reality television. But for our own realities, we should consider two things: if we call ourselves Susan Boyle champions would we have taken perverse pleasure had she failed? We must also be sure to differentiate which of our own attributes are mere gifts and which are the ones we are responsible for improving.

Being awed by beauty that God put in the world is a wonderful thing, but actively working to create a beauty within yourself is nothing short of Godly.



  1. I couldn’t agree more. One of the judges calls Susan’s beautiful voice “a wake-up call,” but if her voice had not been so stunning, those judging eyebrows would have stayed raised.
    Mind if I quote this whole thing on my blog?

  2. Alahna Murciano : April 22, 2009 at 9:27 pm

    please make more videos I love them!

  3. Your point seems to be that while she was vindicated from judgment of her appearance, her vindication was only due to her singing voice; had she not been blessed with a singing voice, the scathing and cruel criticism of her appearance would have remained.
    However, we must realize, this *was* a singing contest; vindication by her singing voice is not so morally scathing.
    As the critics have noted, this initial judgment by appearance was entirely improper; this was a singing contest, not a beauty one.
    On the other hand, all the people who go on singing contests and do horribly, to some extent, they do deserve ridicule. What does one expect to receive from the judges, other than ridicule?
    Do not misunderstand me; I am not saying it is moral to ridicule others; certainly this is a moral vice arising from defects within one’s own personal character, to take any joy in another’s failings. But to some extent, if a person has a horrible singing voice, and he or she enters a singing contest, much of the ridicule is almost self-inflicted. I for example have a horrible singing voice, and I also don’t know anything about art or physics. So if I entered an art-knowledge or physics competition, what should I expect but ridicule?
    So while you are correct that we should be judging based primarily on honesty and integrity, and that we shouldn’t grant overmuch consideration to G-d-given traits which we cannot claim to have earned by dint of personal effort, nevertheless, I will say that to some extent, to judge a person’s singing voice at a singing competition is fine.
    The problem then, here, was really the judging her appearance. This was entirely unwarranted. She shouldn’t have been judged at all by her appearance. But after the fact, for her to be vindicated by her voice is entirely warranted, I believe. Similarly, if a person entered a physics competition and was ridiculed for her appearance, but then her physics contribution was brilliant, should not this serve to completely vindicate her from the criticism she ought not have received in the first place? But if her contribution is a disaster, then she will properly receive criticism for this, but again, she should not receive any criticism whatsoever for her appearance.

  4. See what I write at http://michaelmakovi.blogspot.com/2009/04/what-if-susan-boyle-had-stunk.html
    I must thank you for provoking much thought.

  5. Thanks for your comment, Michael, but I agree with you that a talent competition should be about talent (not pity) and that contestants should only win if they perform well.
    The point that I was trying to make, though, was that everyone felt bad for prejudging Susan Boyle based on an external characteristic (her looks), and then made it seem that they had now begun judging her based on her inner qualities, which is absurd, since the quality of a person’s singing voice is basically as external as her appearance.
    Also, I much prefer how judging is done in contests like the Olympics. If you skate well, you get a high score, if you make mistakes, the score is lower.
    In these reality shows, however, the judges and audience can be brutal, so my concern is that someone who is socially off might think that he has more talent than he’s actually got, auditions for the show and then gets brought on by the casting directors for the sole purpose of being mocked at and ridiculed because some viewers (unfortunately) derive pleasure in watching performers flop.

  6. To comment on your response, Allison:
    The Susan Boyle incident was simply a different version of the same phenomenon we have witnessed of bringing someone on a talent show purely for the purpose of mocking how bad they are. It is most fun when the contestants think they are great.
    In this case, however, the judges are the ones being thrown under the bus. They have become used to passing judgment on others and now the viewers are enjoying mocking them when they have had a fast one pulled over on them.
    In any event, I hope the wake-up call is to everyone to remember that ALL qualities are G-d given, looks and other talents alike, and to value the inner qualities that are only revealed by a person’s true nature.

  7. The irony in Susan Boyle is that, given the quality of her voice, if she’d had a shayna punim, she would not have progressed much further than the first few nights of the contest.
    Her voice is pretty, to be sure, but in terms of skill she is only mediocre. She has the talent, certainly a blessing from Hashem, but there’s so much more to singing that she lacks. This, of course, is not to say she can’t study and rehearse and gain those qualities, but since society expects so much more from “beautiful” people, for whatever reason, they also expect that much less from those who miss that mark.
    (I grew up in a location where there were a lot of blue jays in the trees all seasons of the year. They’re beautiful birds, but if you’ve ever heard their call, it’s a very contradictory sound. Likewise, the nightingale is a drab, plain, ordinary looking bird, but their call is considered to be one of the sweetest we can ever hear. Seems to me, Hashem already gave us plenty of real life examples of why not to judge the proverbial book by its proverbial cover, but I suppose this generation is more prone to paying attention if it’s on reality television.)

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