A Parable of Grace from YouTube: Susan Boyle Sings

A Parable of Grace

By Allan Roy Andrews

If you’re among the seeming minority who has not yet viewed the seven-minute YouTube clip of the April 2009 audition of Scottish singer Susan Boyle on the “Britain’s Got Talent” show, by all means view that video

before you read further.

Today (Nov. 23, 2009), seven months after her audition (and after her 48th birthday), Boyle’s debut album goes on sale.  Pre-order sales at Amazon.com are at the highest for any pre-order of the year.  Incidentally, Boyle’s performance on YouTube has been watched over 100 million times, setting her clips as an online record (the clip to which I’ve referred above has been viewed over 79 million times as of this writing).

Back in April, I used the clip of Boyle’s audition for an exercise in a Composition 101 class I was teaching at a local community college.  I stopped the clip after Boyle introduced herself to the skeptical judges and audience and asked students to write their naive impressions of this woman who was about to sing.  Almost to a person, they described her as dumpy, dowdy, and not likely to impress anyone.

I stopped the clip after Boyle finished her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream,” from the musical Les Miserables, and asked the students to write a second reaction to the video. Again, there was almost universal shock and surprise at the power and quality of this singer’s voice.  The most frequent expression of these freshman writers was how the clip underscored the truth of the old aphorism:  “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”

This, of course, was part of the writing and literature lesson I hoped to impress upon the students, and I asked them to write a third response after they heard what the astonished judges had to say after Boyle had sung. Most of them saw what I saw:  three judges confessing their biases and repenting of their prejudicial expectations.

The three judges, Simon Cowell (best known to American TV-audiences as the seemingly harsh and abrupt judge of “American Idol”); British actress Amanda Holden; and Piers Morgan, the author and editor turned talent scout and judge; each responded to Boyle’s performance with honest surprise and repentance.  Holden called the performance the “biggest wake-up call ever” to the cynical negativism she and the audience displayed and told Boyle she felt it a “complete privilege” to have heard her sing, and Morgan, the first to vote on Boyle’s audition, said he was in “total shock” and gave her the “biggest yes” he’s ever given anyone on the talent show.

Similarly, the audience, many of whom rolled their eyes and snickered at Boyle’s introduction, spent most of the time of her performance on its feet in a rousing ovation to her talent.

For me, the seven-minute clip was a parable of the triumph of grace.

For the record, Boyle did not win the competition; she placed second to an acrobatic and precision team dance act called “Diversity.”  The Great Britain audience that watched the final competition of “Britain’s Got Talent” was a record-setting 17.4 million viewers.  But one might say that “winning” is a matter of interpretation, as is demonstrated in the dynamic of many of the parables of Jesus.  The Good Samaritan and the widow who gave her mite, along with many others, turn out to be the “winners” of the scriptural stories.  In the parable of “Britain’s Got Talent,” Susan Boyle emerges a winner.

Briefly hospitalized for treatment of exhaustion after her highly publicized performances on the British talent show, Boyle has put together her first album, a mixture of well-known songs and Christian hymns, including renditions of “Amazing Grace,”  “How Great Thou Art,” and the Christmas carol, “Silent Night.”

A reprise of her attention-grabbing first audition singing of “I Dreamed a Dream” is on the album as well.  Two cuts I find surprisingly attractive are calm and thoughtful renditions of the Mick Jagger song, “Wild Horses,” and another of the John Stewart (one-time member of The Kingston Trio) number made popular by The Monkees, “Daydream Believer.”

Excerpts of the album are available at http://www.susanboylemusic.com/gb/music/

I concur with the advice Simon Cowell gave Susan Boyle at the end of her audition, “You can go back to the village with your head held high . . . .”

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