I Dreamed A Dream
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About the Artist
January 21st 2009 is not a date that Susan Boyle is ever likely to forget. ‘I will never forget it,’ she clarifies, in her unmistakeably Celtic brogue. It was the day that the shy, devout 48 year old stepped onto the stage of the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre in Glasgow for an audition on Britain’s Got Talent. Or to put it another way, the day her world turned 360 degrees on its head. In front of the three-strong panel of judges charged with divining which of this year’s British hopefuls really did have talent, the singing voice of Susan Boyle turned out to be a watershed moment neither she nor anyone involved in the show could possibly have foreseen. It is now both her and the show’s defining moment.
In her own haphazard fashion, during three and a half minutes of television airtime, later aired to slack-jawed intakes of breath in May of this year, Susan Boyle fashioned a new kind of fame. She elicited a moment of pure, molten zeitgeist. She broke every rule of the talent show book and tore up a considerable number of the pages of popular music marketing into the bargain. She symbolized an astonishing variety of the little-people’s revenge, quite by accident. Ms Boyle describes her own astonishing 2009 in refreshingly frank and simple terms. ‘All I did was to apply for a talent show. I was lucky enough to be chosen. That’s it in a nutshell.’ But something deeper was going on in the collective public consciousness. If the two watchwords of the 21st century have been ‘reality’ and ‘celebrity’, Susan Boyle had accidentally located a brand new point on the graph where they both intersected. One of Britain’s forgotten characters had rarely, if ever, been so memorable.
After her one audition for Britain’s Got Talent, in which she confounded the judges, the audience and then anyone with access to Youtube’s expectations by dazzling her way through a version of the song I Dreamed A Dream, from the musical Les Miserables, a tornado of opinionated column inches, speculation, rumination and conjecture around Susan Boyle grew feverishly. 300 Million You Tube hits and counting. She became the subject of op-ed newspaper columns, a front cover sensation in her own right. This unlikely candidate for the melting pot of the new star machine in 21st century Britain caused computer crashes, miles of newsprint and the sophisticated approval of Hollywood’s well-heeled and super-groomed A-list. Though the content differed wildly, everyone proffering their thoughts on the self-confessed ‘wee wifey’ seemed agreed on one point. That in 2009, to be free of an opinion on Susan Boyle was to be free of opinion itself.
For one brief moment, vanity itself collapsed. As that ancient old maxim – ‘Never judge a book by its cover’ – clanked around the globe with speedy viral intensity, it was as if the world was about to offer its first unspoken apology for prizing beauty above all else. Perhaps it would temporarily forget its grotesquely accentuated new heights of judgement. Or perhaps Susan Boyle was just a fleeting icon by which a microscope was shone on our more fickle presumptions. Whatever history gifts the Susan Boyle story in the long term, it is now her time to prove that there is more to this incredible woman than being the symbol for a moment of international reflection. She will do it in the exact same way she entered our consciousness in the first place. With the raw combination of strength and fragility, beauty and solitude that is her singing voice.
In some ways, Ms Boyle’s story is just the same as any woman with a voice in any choir up and down the UK. In her home town of Blackburn, she had been schooled in singing in churches and choral societies. She says now that, as a shy young woman with some learning difficulties, being hidden in the blanket of a collective singing arrangement offered her comfort. So in one other, crucial way, her story is entirely her own. The most unlikely chorister in the sea of voices stepped out of line and put her head above the parapet to be noticed. For Susan Boyle, though she would never deign to say so much herself, this was an act of personal heroism, the like of which she had never contemplated before.
The speed with which reaction to her performance picked up gravitas proved an incendiary media hotbed. But it was most surprising for the woman at the centre of it. ‘It started off with the [Scottish newspaper] Daily Record visiting my door. And it ended up with TV stations from all over the world camping out on my street waiting for interviews and stories. I’d peak behind the curtains in the house, saying ‘what in God’s name is going on here?’ Then the phone calls started. My number was still in the book at that particular time, so anybody could get it and the phone was ringing 24 hours a day. It was constant. People were ringing me who I couldn’t understand because of their accents. All sorts of nationalities. Lots of Americans. It was absolutely unbelievable if I’m being honest.’ She is self-deprecating about why she should have caused such a furore. ‘A woman who went on with mad hair, bushy eyebrows and the frock I was wearing had to be noticed. Come on!’
Such is the quick nature of today’s star system, in September, just four months after her TV debut, Susan Boyle made her live TV comeback. She performed a rarefied take on The Rolling Stones Wild Horses, re-orchestrated to gently clasp the exact timbre of her natural talent, on the show’s US cousin, America’s Got Talent. An unprompted standing ovation followed. Outside of the unruly cyclone of her fame, there is something within the voice of Susan Boyle that is absolutely perfect for our times. At a moment when Dame Vera Lynn and Barbra Streisand are topping the album charts, there is something peculiarly modern about her improbably status as holding the international record for most pre-ordered album of all time. As the dust settles on the sheer wattage of conversation that she has prompted, it is time – as they say – to face the music.
Ms Boyle’s debut album was put together during the summer of this year. She first entered a recording studio in July in Edinburgh, to test how her vocals would respond to tape. The results shocked both her and veteran producer Steve Mac. Decamping to London, she fashioned the record over two months, picking songs that resonated with her, that pricked something within that she felt ready to unleash through music. ‘It was important that I could feel everything I was singing,’ she says, cutting straight to the core of why music can be such a useful release, an escape valve from the everyday.
A disarming mix of the sacred (‘My faith is my backbone,’ she says) and the secular, there is not a moment on it that is not moving. It is pitched exactly within the framework of the year she has enjoyed and, at well-documented times, endured. It is a collection of covers and original material that cuts a swathe into the interior life of the woman who is arguably the most intriguing, not to mention instantly recognisable character yet to be produced by the reality talent medium, the decade’s defining TV genre.
When she hurts, it hurts. Her rousing rendition of Madonna’s You’ll See is a riposte to the children that picked on her in the playground. The new composition Who I Was Born To Be is an astonishing testament to self-belief against some startling odds. Yet when she dreams, we dream too. Because of her uncanny knack of picking a song so perfect for her tale at that very first audition, Ms Boyle has become synonymous with the word ‘dream’. Her flawless album rendition of I Dreamed A Dream may come as no surprise, but it still manages to pick every individual hair from the back of your neck and yank them to attention. A country ballad version of Daydream Believer delicately seals the deal of her being synonymous with the concept of dreaming.
For this is Susan Boyle’s tale. The fearlessness to dream about something other than the lot life has handed you. The chance to escape. The pivotal role of music as a conduit to go to another place, sometimes lodged at the outer recesses of your imagination, and to allow that new place to blossom. Yes, this is Susan Boyle’s tale. It is why it connected with so many unsuspecting people across the world. In another nutshell? If she can dare to dream, so can you.
SUSANS DEBUT ALBUM “I DREAMED A DREAM” IS RELEASED IN THE UK/WORLDWIDE ON NOVEMBER 23RD
“I Dreamed a Dream’ is already the most pre-ordered album worldwide of all time.
Top Customer Reviews
In the title track, I Dreamed A Dream, Boyle gives a far different interpretation from her iconic performance on Britain's Got Talent. In her audition, she gave a rendition that was more akin to a soaring anthem than a downtrodden woman's rueful rumination on a ruined life. Here, however, Boyle gives the song a more nuanced interpretation that reflects the despair of dreams unfulfilled and a life shattered by loss. Her vocals are just as assured as in her first performance of the song, yet deeper here and more passionate.
Some of the song choices which may have seemed odd at first glance turned out to have been inspired. The selection of the Rolling Stones' 1971 classic, Wild Horses, must have struck many as a bizarre decision doomed to failure. As listeners know well by now, Boyle, aided by Steve Mac's spartan production, reworked the song into a haunting paean to love and loss. Another seemingly off-the-wall choice was Daydream Believer, first recorded by the Monkees. Here, the sprightly, upbeat tune is transformed by Boyle's gentle, lyrical delivery into a dreamy and contemplative ballad. This, in my opinion, is the track that serves as the best showcase for her talents as her clear, lovely vocals float above the simple piano accompaniment. The effect is intimate, as if we are listening in on the singer's reverie.
Boyle's new rendition of Cry Me A River is stronger and more bitter than the delicate, gentle version she recorded in 1999. While never reaching the furious depths of some other versions of the song, she still conveys the anger of a woman scorned. You'll See is also a delight as Boyle invests Madonna's anthem with her personal pain and determination.
Overall, this is a beautiful album with every track a gem. Fans of Susan Boyle and of good music in general will love her debut effort.
"Wild Horses" was originally composed by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards for the Rolling Stones, in their 1971 album Sticky Fingers. In this re-arranged version, Susan Boyle gives new meaning to an old song. In her own words, it "conjures up memories of childhood amongst Council Estates, poverty and struggle..." in this hauntingly beautiful rendition of hers.
"Cry Me a River", a popular American torch song originally recorded by Julie London in 1953, was performed by Susan Boyle in a charity event in 1999 and subsequently put on CD. Only a thousand copies were made. Now 10 years later, in her new CD, she again captures the beauty of this jazzy blues ballad written by Arthur Hamilton, in the melancholy of a woman betrayed, just as she did years ago. One wonders: where were the talent scouts in those days? How did they overlook this talented woman?
"You'll See", an international hit written and performed by Madonna in 1995, tells of the determination and sorrow of love betrayed. While Madonna's rendition was filled with determination, Susan Boyle sings the ballad movingly with equal amount of determination and sorrow. It brought tears to my eyes.
"Day Dream Believer" was a song composed by John Stewart of the Kingston Trio and recorded in 1967 by the Monkees, with Davy Jones as the lead. It was sung light-heartedly with a humorous opening. Susan Boyle's soft and dreamy rendition of the song, however, conjures up vision of a half-asleep woman struggling to get out of bed and start the day.
"Proud" was originally performed by Matthew James Thomas who played the part of Jez Tyler in the British musical drama TV series "Britannia High". It was the British version of "Fame". In her song, Susan Boyle captures the spirit of an offspring who pleads for acceptance of his/her parent.
"The End of The World" was a pop hit by the country music crossover vocalist Skeeter Davis in 1962. Accompanied only by a guitar, Susan Boyle's vocal ebbs & flows, like the tide gently lapping the shore. If Skeeter Davis' rendition is like a woman crying over lost love, then that of Susan Boyle is like one sobbing quietly over her loss.
The spirituality of Susan Boyle shines through the spiritual and sacred songs in this album. They include the Christian hymns "How Great Thou Art", "Amazing Grace", and the Christmas tune "Silent Night". But the most inspiring selection is "Up to the Mountain", written by American singer-songwriter Patty Griffin. This song was inspired by the speech, "I've been to the mountaintop" by Martin Luther King, Jr., given on the day before his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee in 1968. Accompanied by a piano and supported by a chorus, Susan Boyle brings forth the emotion & spirituality surrounding MLK's speech.
"Who I Was Born To Be" is the answer to the critics who label Susan Boyle (quite unkindly) as cover or karaoke singer. It was written specifically for Susan Boyle by American singer-songwriter Audra Mae, great grand niece of Judy Garland. Accompanied by a beautiful tune at the piano and supported by a chorus and an orchestra, the song showcases the full vocal range of the talented Susan Boyle. This piece is a harbinger of things to come. Established songwriters will beat a path to the door of Susan Boyle, pleading for the chance to showcase their new songs. Susan Boyle fans are in for a treat.
The Broadway Hit
Of course, we can't forget the Broadway hit, "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Miserables, which made Susan Boyle famous, or vice versa. Contrary to the soaring rendition in her performance on BGT, this album version is softer and more contemplative, but every bit as powerful and moving.
The Album Art
Susan Boyle was all dolled up in these Bazaar photo shoots at Cliveden, the luxurious Italianate mansion just outside of London. That is the way Susan Boyle fans want to visualize her, while listening to her angelic voice. I especially like the picture of her, dressed in a gorgeous gown, sitting by a piano, surrounded by fine things, ready to perform for her audience--a dream finally come true for a great artist.
That Magical Moment
Susan Boyle has earned her place as one of the great singers of our time. I have the feeling that this debut album of hers, with songs of many genres, is here just to whet our appetite. I am looking forward to hearing more of her, perhaps a second album on Broadway hits and sacred songs, and a Christmas album just in time to catch Christmas 2010. The Sony Music studio did a great job to capture her angelic voice on CD. What it didn't and couldn't do was to capture the magic of the moment when Simon Cowell raised his eyebrows, Amanda Holden dropped her jaw, Piers Morgan clapped enthusiastically, and the audience cheered wildly as Susan Boyle sang "I Dreamed a Dream" during her audition on BGT. That magical moment lives in the memories of hundreds of million of fans who had watched her performance on YouTube.
Footnote: For a more in-depth review on "What I was born to be" by Big Al, please follow this link: