How Beautiful Should a Voice Look?

Three days ago, a friend (thanks, Tillu), posted a YouTube link on Facebook about Susan Boyle’s performance on the show “Britain’s Got Talent”. After you type Susan Boyle in the search bar on YouTube, you should choose the first video; it is 7:08 minutes long, because it contains her pre-performance build-up as well. Here we learn that Susan is 47, and from a small cluster of villages somewhere in Britain. She has a double chin and is matronly plump. When she is asked who she wants to be like and says “Elaine Paige”, you can almost hear the sniggers in the audience, while the camera cuts to looks of disbelief on the judges’ faces (Amanda Holden, Piers Morgan and Simon Cowell, the latter of American Idol fame) and then to a teen in the audience rolling her eyes. Elaine Paige is considered by many to be the “First Lady of British Musical Theatre” and became famous when she played Eva Peron in the musical “Evita”. Her signature song is “Memories” from the musical “Cats”.
Susan Boyle however decides to sing, “I Dreamed a Dream” from the musical, “Les Miserables”. Just before she starts to sing, the camera pans once more across the judges and the audience; you can sense their weariness and their thoughts, “here is one more talentless, over-the-hill woman taking her shot at 1 minute of stardom”. And then she sings. It’s difficult to describe what happens next in words…so it’s best if you see the video yourselves. The best part of the video however is seeing the incredulous looks on the judges’ faces when they realize that here is a woman who can actually sing and that too with a voice perhaps as good as Elaine Paige’s.
Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Blink” writes about the pitfalls of making presumptuous, instantaneous decisions based on our “gut” feel. As in Susan Boyle’s case, we are so tuned to our woman singers being sexy and young (no thanks to MTV, etc), that we intuitively make a call about someone’s singing talent based on her looks and appearance. And many of us have a lot of trouble differentiating between “good-looking” and “good-sounding” voices.
In “Blink”, Mr. Gladwell further goes on to talk about how women would hardly feature in classical orchestras, some years ago, because it was assumed that they just couldn’t play the instruments as well as men. It was only when curtains were put in front of the performers during auditions, and the judges had no clue who the person playing was…man, woman, white, black, etc, that women started getting selected and now account for 50% of all orchestra players.
To further drive home this point; type “Paul Potts” in a YouTube search bar and select the third video that says, “Paul sings Nessun Dorma”. See his pre-performance build-up; his lack of confidence, the plump face with bad front-teeth; a salesman in a mobile phone shop in a town in Britain, who wants to be an opera singer. All you need to do is to hear his tenor voice once, to understand what I am talking about.
In the days when radio was king and there was no television, it was only the “voice” that mattered and this worked very well for all the singers of the previous generation. Today, when television rules, the paradigms are different; average, but good-looking singers are usually more successful than great, but “not-so-good” looking ones. So I ask the question again. How beautiful should a voice look?

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