Moving the World
The Internet is abuzz with the tale of Susan Boyle, 47-year-old singing sensation who took the “Britain’s Got Talent” TV show by storm a couple of weeks ago. In case you’ve been hiding under a rock, Miss Boyle appeared on stage as an unemployed, overweight, middle-aged woman with frizzy hair. Then she sang “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables so beautifully that the audience and judges were enthralled.
The story here isn’t about a talent show, or that a singer gave a great performance. It’s about reaching for the stars, building on the unique talent we each have, and breaking through barriers. It’s also about the prejudices and stereotypes we hold, and getting beyond them to recognize value in others of all types. In this music video world, we tend to assume that great singers are also young and physically beautiful. What a strange idea!
You see, Miss Boyle is not the first out-of-type singer to be successful, and far from the oldest. If she had started her music career at 20, nobody would be surprised if she were still singing professionally at 50. And while appearance matters in pop music, it’s less important in other branches. Luciano Pavarotti did not exactly look like Orlando Bloom, but he sang before a lot of packed houses.
The judges on Britain’s Got Talent showed astonishment at Susan Boyle’s appearance, but they didn’t have to go back far to find a similar case. The overall 2007 winner of the competition was Paul Potts, a round-faced, ordinary-looking cell phone salesman. He sang an operatic solo with such clarity and depth that his performance made even opera haters sit up and listen. Mr. Potts has since released a CD that sold over 2 million copies. Clearly the voice matters much more than appearance… of course, the publicity value of winning a televised competition was also essential to his success.
So who are these incredible phenomena, Susan Boyle and Paul Potts? Did they spring forth, like Venus from the ocean, to suddenly have the voices of angels?
Of course not! Each of them worked for years at their craft and polished their innate talents until they were ready to perform their songs in front of millions. According to Wikipedia, “Potts first sang opera in 1999 in a karaoke competition, dressed as Luciano Pavarotti. That same year, he appeared in the Michael Barrymore talent show My Kind of Music. Although he did not take first place, he won £8,000 — enough to help pay for vocal lessons in Italy, during which he was selected to perform in front of singers Pavarotti and Katia Ricciarelli.”
Miss Boyle was also musically active 10 years ago – “In 1999, Boyle used “all her savings” to pay for a professionally cut demo tape, which she later sent to record companies, radio talent competitions, local and national TV and which has now been released on the Internet. It consisted of “Cry Me a River” and her version of “Killing Me Softly with His Song”.” Susan performed in benefit concerts, but remained unnoticed.
These talented singers did not come out of nowhere and suddenly learn to sing. They honed their talents over many years, then were catapulted into the international spotlight by their opportunities on the talent show and the viral nature of Internet “word of web”.
Most importantly, they persisted in the face of tremendous challenges. Susan’s father died about 15 years ago and she was the caregiver for her mother until her mother’s death in 2007. Paul went through a series of illnesses and accidents that prevented him from singing for several years. Ordinary people might have given up in these circumstances, but these are Heroes. They picked themselves up, stood up before the risk of failure and humiliation, and kept trying.
The media has made much of the initial scorn directed towards Susan Boyle – The message, “You’re unattractive, so we won’t like you.” But that isn’t how I see it. I watch the instant change from skepticism to adoration in the Talent audience, and I don’t see bad, prejudiced, judgmental people. I see people who needed inspiration and found it. I see an immediate recognition and acceptance of beauty that made physical appearances irrelevant. I see how one Hero can make a difference in the lives of thousands, then millions, then hundreds of millions.
I see this because I went to a Mensa party in San Diego, and the people there just had to share Susan Boyle’s performance for those of us who do normally live in caves. Lori learned about the performance from a blog on “five inspirational videos”. In case we’d missed it, my sister-in-law sent me a link she’d gotten from her sister.
One act, hundreds of millions of people touched. By the way, Susan’s choice of material was inspired. The judges on Britain’s Got Talent ask each contestant, “What’s your dream?” Performing “I Dreamed a Dream” is certainly a response to that! I’ve listened to her performance 5 or 6 times now, and each time I am moved and energized by it.
Got Have Talent
“We aren’t all Susan Boyles and Paul Pottses,” you may be thinking. They’re clearly extraordinary individuals. But this isn’t a story about where they are now; it’s about how they became what they are. Because they didn’t start out as stars either. They began as individuals who loved singing and kept doing it, and getting training, and trying over and over to become noticed, until finally they did.
We hear about the odds, that 50,000 people auditioned for Britain’s Got Talent, and only one person wins each year. Well, those aren’t the real odds. There are about 61 million people in the United Kingdom. That means that less than 1 out of 1000 even tried to get on the show. The others self-selected themselves out of the running. You don’t win by failing to try. You succeed by pushing and learning and working and taking risks. You succeed by going out there and doing things you believe in.
We all have that power to inspire. All we have to do is to take stock of our own skills and talents, work to nurture and strengthen them, then dare to stand up and show the world what we have. It might start with helping one person with a small project, or singing in a local chorus, or even writing a blog article. At first only a few people will notice, but if you inspire them, they will remember it. Maybe they’ll find a way to pass on the story, or maybe it will help them to create inspiration of their own. But the wave will spread and it will be good.
That is why we started The School for Heroes. Everyone here has some talent, some skill. The Band of Bards is specifically about performance, but all Heroes perform when the time comes. Paladins “perform” by helping people, but also literally stand before an audience at times. Warriors lead, and that doesn’t just mean walking in front. It also means using words to convince others to do what needs to be done. Wizards teach; that’s a performance too.
But most importantly, we dream, and we work to fulfill those dreams. The School is designed to help each of us understand who we are, what we believe in, and how to make our dreams become reality.
Dream the Dream
It doesn’t have to stop there. The Ars Heroica is currently seen by a few hundred Hero students and other visitors. But each one of us has the power to multiply that audience. When you see an article that moves you the way Susan Boyle and Paul Potts moved their listeners, pass it on. Post a link to it in response to another blog. Mention it on your Facebook page. Work with other students to create a video illustrating the ideas and post it to YouTube. Email a few friends and link them the article that might start to change their lives. You have so much more power than you realize!
So what is your dream? What is the one thing that you want to accomplish more than anything else? Find your passion, live your dream, and make it real. It won’t be easy. You’ll have to do a lot of hard work. You may face ridicule and rejection. But believe in your dream and maybe, some day, you can inspire people as much as Paul Potts and Susan Boyle.