At the risk of turning this blog into a Susan Boyle-a-thon, a few more thoughts on the woman who is quite possibly, at this moment, the biggest thing in the world.
First off, if you haven't yet, check out my colleague Michael Paulson's blog post on the theological reaction to Boyle's performance. (I especially love the thoughts from the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest: "The way we see Susan Boyle is very nearly the way God sees us: worthwhile, special, talented, unique, beautiful.")
I was discussing the Boyle phenomenon this morning with MIT professor Henry Jenkins, an expert on pop culture and fandom and the author of "Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide." He says the reaction might have been smaller without Twitter, a new way of spreading news more quickly than ever to communities with shared interest. (I personally first heard about her from a poster on our weekly "American Idol" chat.) And he thinks the YouTube video of Boyle's "Britain's Got Talent" audition -- 100 million views and counting -- wouldn't have the same weight on this side of the pond if we didn't already know Simon Cowell. Part of the thrill, he contends, is watching Cowell's reaction shift from trademark sneer to deep appreciation. He also notes that "Britain's Got Talent" has a tradition of finding true underdog talents; before Boyle, after all, there was Paul Potts. "You have a feeling that that show has a 'genre expectation' of finding that story," Jenkins told me. Boyle worked because "she was just so quirky and so good."
His thoughts tied into something I've been mulling for a couple of days now: the question of whether Boyle's skyrocketing success will have any effect on "Idol" and its many imitators. Over here, to put it in Jenkins' terms, the "genre expectation" of the early episodes is failure. (Truthfully, "Britain's Got Talent" probably shows a lot of that, too, which is why Simon and his fellow judges were so sneering.) So will the overwhelming reaction to Boyle -- this universal thrill about the fact that she sang so well -- make the producers rethink their formula? Will they now start looking for diamonds in the rough, as opposed to delusional crazy people? Will Susan Boyle kill cynicism? Will it work?