I don’t watch much TV but I just happened to see Susan Boyle’s performance on Britain’s Got Talent last week. At the time I thought she had a great voice and found it quite amusing that the panel of critics were so shocked. But I didn’t find it extraordinary that some one who looked like a very ordinary middle-aged woman might have a stunning voice.
There’s a couple of good reasons why my reaction might not be the same as that of the panel (or a couple of million youtube watchers).
First up I live with a very talented but certainly not famous singer songwriter (Andy Roberts) so live music is a regular part of my day.
Second I have attended folk clubs (like Havering Folk Club) all my adult life and occasionally seen the most unlikely people burst into song with voices that are as good as anything on the professional stage.
Finally I grew up in a Scots family where people of all ages, sizes and shapes sang, were expected to get up on any occasion and sing well, and there was nothing surprising about that. (I was the surprise, as I alone in my family don’t have a good singing voice. I learned poems instead!)
I think that it’s great that Susan Boyle is having her moment but something she is supposed to have said troubled me. She wants to be like Elaine Paige, but no one ever gave her the chance. Well, I’m not sure anyone ever ‘gave’ Elaine Paige the chance either. I think she had to take all the chances she could, work very hard, learn to sing in a way that protects her voice so she can sing 8 shows a week, learn to act, and create the Elaine Paige we know today. For every Elaine there are hundreds of talented singers, with wonderful voices who did all that, who took their chances and who didn’t make it. There are also thousands who have amazing voices and aren’t famous at all. They can’t all be West End stars and many of them wouldn’t want to be.
I suppose my point is that it’s not really about having talent. It’s about what you choose do do with it. Susan Boyle made a set of choices which led her to one life, she may now have changed direction (or not) but it’s not her singing talent which will decide that. It is everything else that goes with that choice.