Travelling recently on a mass transit in Bangkok, I saw a young man listening and watching intensely something on his iPhone, so out of curiosity I asked what he was watching. He replied that it was the YouTube video of Susan Boyle’s audition in 2009 in the TV program, Britain’s Got Talent. He explained that he watched that video at least once a month because he found it inspirational; it empowers him to dream that he too has a chance for stardom one day – somehow. Susan Boyle is now an iconic figure, he added. That got me thinking about Susan Boyle and the label “iconic”.
The story of Susan Boyle
The story of Boyle is well known. She was born in 1961 in Blackburn, Scotland, the youngest of nine children, and was reported to have learning disability. Boyle had some voice coaching, and prior to that audition she used to sing at church choirs and in karaoke performances. Her first public appearance on the talent show fired public imagination when her modest stage introduction and thick speaking accent left the audience, viewers and judges unprepared for the power and expression of her mezzo-soprano voice rendering the song “I Dreamed a Dream”. Within nine days of that appearance, YouTube videos of Boyle had been watched over 100 million times. But has Boyle become an iconic figure?
The term Iconic has been used to describe such diverse women as Marilyn Monroe, Princess Diana, Eva Peron and Mother Teresa. In its original meaning, an icon is a religious work of art, mainly from Eastern Christianity. Modern meaning of the word implies that the person or thing is representative of something bigger than herself/itself. However, so many people and things are now described as “iconic” that the term has become debased. For example, in a recent email from Louis Vuitton, I learnt that their Alma handbag is “iconic” but I am not sure why that is so. Perhaps they mean that the handbag is popular, has been around for some time and is well recognized as one of their expensive products?
Paving the way for people to dream
Despite coming second in the contest, Boyle has attained fame, with new recording and performances all over the world and a growing bank account to show for it. She even had a makeover for her photos in fashion magazines. A musical has been made of her life and no doubt there will be a movie on it as well. Her name is recognized the world over. She represents something bigger than herself – she shows up our prejudices based on appearance and age. Importantly, she gives hope to millions of people and paves the way for them to dream, even when they don’t know how their dream could ever come true. On balance, I would not disagree with the young man’s description of Boyle as an iconic figure.