A Middle-Aged Woman is Born

Must be on my mind (oh yes it is, this aging thing), but more on the middle-aged woman front . . .

Yesterday, a few friends sent me the same YouTube video of a British woman named Susan Boyle. I then sent it to a few friends. I think by now everyone I know has seen it.

If for any reason you haven’t, it’s a clip from the British version of “American Idol” (and, in fact, is the show from which Idol was created). We are shown a middle-aged woman who looks like the portly and slightly dim farmer’s wife in the movie “Babe.” Stuffed into an unfashionable, ill-fitting pale yellow dress, she looks so homely and odd that, at first glance, it’s not even clear if she’s mentally all there.

In a brief interview before she walks on stage, Boyle says that she’s “never been kissed” and lives alone with her cat, Pebbles. Oh God, we’re about to watch something humiliating, so of course, we all keep watching.

As a friend of mine commented, there’s something of Roman circus to this: the camera pans the audience’s reaction as she walks on stage: people are covering their mouths in shock or grimacing, delighting at the opportunity to see her eviscerated. Judges included, they are practically salivating, getting ready to tear her apart the minute she opens her mouth. “I’m 47,” she says, and the entire audience gasps, as if she’s just told everyone that she roasts babies for her nightly supper. (Oh, as a 46-year-old woman, that one was hard to endure, the gasps at such an old, old age.)

Then she sings.

Oh yes, Boyle sings like an angel. Her voice, as one of the clearly bowled-over judges said afterwards, is “stunning.” When the audience realizes that the joke has been on them (they’ve been appropriately humbled once the fat lady sang), within seconds of hearing her perfect voice, they stand to applaud and then when she finishes singing “I Have a Dream” from Les Miserables, they give her another standing ovation.

Like many, I was crying by the end. But then I thought about it, and a couple of my middle-aged women friends emailed me back after I’d sent it, and they were a little…peeved if not full-out pissed off. Why is it so GD amazing that an older woman (but she’s not 120 years old, for lord’s sake), one who is a bit heavy, can sing like Beverly Sills?

Why does this video surprise us so much? Is it because she’s older? Because she doesn’t look at all, at all American Idol-ish? Did the producers of the show set us up, making sure she wore the most unflattering dress and coffee-colored panty hose with frizzed-out hair, just to make sure we were shocked?

I don’t know. But still I was touched. There’s no question. She won.

I will add her to my list of middle-aged, late-blooming women. Matter of fact, she’ll be my new poster girl.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “A Middle-Aged Woman is Born

  1. jill

    I was thinking much the same thing. Why should everyone be so surprised that a less than attractive person has talent? And what’s so weird about her being 47 — what about Maria Callas, Frederica von Stade, not to mention elderly rockers like Tina Turner and Mick Jagger. I thought the crowd’s reaction went from downright insulting to patronizing. I guess I’m too cranky to see it as a feel good video, much as I loved her singing.

  2. You know what I liked: her personality. Even before she sang she showed verve. She swung her hips and tried to give attitude to the audience. Yes she is not well groomed. But she has a good sense of herself.

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