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79 Seconds of Fame

April 20, 2009


They come into our consciousness and quickly vanish. And we forget how the media, including YouTube, takes the real life hopes and dreams of talented unknowns and squashes them right in front of us.


“Did you hear the YouTube video yet?” “Yeah, I saw the English lady. She was really good.” What English lady, I asked, as usual, last to know. Kyle had emailed Marlee, Marlee Facebooked Judy. I thought, what am I, chopped liver? “Email me the video.” That was Saturday night and I checked my Blackberry Pearl. Nothing. I got bupkes from my kids and wife.

            It’s not like I am totally out of it. I know Adam Lambert and Danny Goike, the top contestants from this season’s American Idol and I know that the guy from Grand Rapids, Michigan was given a lifeline last Thursday, so he still has a slim chance to win. But I have to admit, I just don’t spend that much time on YouTube and I hadn’t tried Hulu yet. I mean, what should I do, spend my life on the web? Instead, Judy and I downloaded Yes, Man from Direct TV and then fell asleep after the first half hour.

            I woke Sunday, forgetting anything about YouTube, as I went outside to get my Detroit Free Press. Mitch Albom was already writing about it. “By now, you’ve probably heard of Susan Boyle, the 47-year-old unemployed church worker with the voice of a Broadway diva,” he wrote. (“Up like a rocket, but then what?” Detroit Free Press, April 19, 2009, Page 23A) No, Mitch, I hadn’t. I guess I was not one of the 40 million who had seen the video. Brian Dickerson on Page 27A wrote his essay, “If Detroit had a Susan Boyle moment,” and then I had enough.

            I turned on the computer and clicked on and searched for Susan Boyle. There were a few entries, all with the same Susan, the top one being 7 minutes and 7 seconds long. I was Number 29,952,437. Hey, not bad, I was in the first 30 million viewers for this one. Susan Boyle was a contestant on Britain’s Got Talent, the original version before it was exported to the USA. She faced funny faces from the judges and audience members when she walked onto the stage in what Mitch called her “frumpy dress, unwieldy hair, stout figure, like a middle-aged Scottish woman who lives alone with her cat.” When she started singing, “I Dreamed a Dream,” from Les Miserables, the audience started clapping and the two hosts backstage chimed in, “You didn’t expect that, did you?”

            Out of the 7 minutes, the song itself was about 79 seconds, which included constant clapping, the audience howling, the two hosts talking, and quick edits of the judges’ jaws dropping, and Simon Cowell’s face turning into a huge smile. Number 14,321, which she wore above her dress, sang powerfully and in tune. But the panning cameras, quick editing, smiling Simon Cowell and awe from the other two judges seemed almost orchestrated, as if they were all tipped off that Susan was one heck of a singer. 

            This is the modern world of fame, which has been reduced from 15 minutes or 900 seconds to just over a minute, or 79 seconds to be precise. We have attention spans slightly longer than fleas. We catch onto the latest swept-up sensation or root for the newest underdog singer, who in this instance looks a little bit like a cross between John Candy and John Goodman, with thicker eyebrows. If you take away the curly hair and the pearls, she could be a member of the English Parliament.

            Boyle told the cameras in one of the YouTube videos that she was “never kissed” and never had a date. She is the latest “slumdog millionaire,” which Judy and I finally saw a week ago, except she is broke and technically not from the slums. And the money being made is not hers or Google’s which owns YouTube but the show’s itself and its producers, which includes the usually bombastic and caustic Simon and that other judge who’s also a judge on America’s Got Talent. You know, that annoying, overly critical one on the left and no, I don’t feel like googling his name. You can if you don’t remember it.

            Maybe Susan, who has sung for 35 years, will wind up being a bigger British export than the Beatles or the modern British iconoclasts, Radiohead. Why not?  She is a breath of fresh, frumpy air, unlike Fergie who sings poorly but sells well. Maybe she’ll wind up being like Mandisa, the 9th place finalist on American Idol’s Season 5. Mandisa has done moderately well, which includes releasing Freedom, her second CD, last month. Or maybe she’ll be like Christina Christian from Season 1. You don’t remember her? Either did I but when I looked her up on Google, she was Number 6 from Season 1 and was eliminated after singing Peggy Lee’s “The Glory of Love.”

            They come into our consciousness and quickly vanish. And we forget how the media, including YouTube, takes the real life hopes and dreams of talented unknowns and squashes them right in front of us. And we consumers, reeling from the losses of Circuit City, Sharper Image, and possibly Saturn and Hummer on the horizon, take it in and get lost in the overwhelming blur of it all.

            I dreamed a dream last night, that I was in front of a cast of judges and when I tried to sing, “I Dreamed a Dream,” I froze and the words got caught in my throat. I was thrown off the show with the gong from the 1980s Gong Show. Then, I woke, happy that it was all a dream.

            Today, I see Susan Boyle in my mind’s eye. Next year, I doubt if I’ll remember her name.

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