Thursday, April 16, 2009

Big Girls Can Sing

The Internet today is dominated by a lovely story of a 47-year old Scottish woman from West Lothian who wowed judges and audience of the TV show "Britain's Got Talent". Susan Boyle is not a young glamorous sex symbol like the female contestants on "American Idol". She is unmarried, currently unemployed, having spent many years caring for her mother until her mother's death in 2007. Susan herself suffers from learning disabilities, having suffered oxygen deprivation at birth. As a result, she was frequently teased at school.

Yet she never let this make her bitter at the world. Instead, she tries to keep a positive attitude and has devoted her energy to helping others. As she told the talent show: "I like to help out where I can and I mostly do voluntary work. I help out the elderly, stuff like that. And I visit people in hospital. I’ve been doing that for a year and a half now."

And she sang -- at the local pub and in her church. When she came on stage to audition for "Britain's Got Talent", the judges rolled their eyes and the audience snickered. From her looks, no one expected anything. Then she opened her mouth and launched into "I Dreamed a Dream" from "Les Misérables" and brought the room to their feet. Stop to watch the video and then keep reading.

Susan Boyle "I Dreamed a Dream"

We Americans and Europeans tend to want our singers young and pretty but our brothers and sisters south of the border have taught us that some of the most talented voices come in bodies that will not win any beauty contests. I remember the first time I saw Mercedes Sosa live. She was already up in years, heavy, and suffering from various physical disabilities. I was dubious, and yet when she started to sing, she dominated the stage like a diva. She was the queen of the concert hall and held us under her spell for the entire program. It didn't matter that she could no longer shake her booty. The power of her voice made you believe that peace was possible, social change likely, and revolution inevitable. She became, and still is, one of my favorite Latin American singers.

Last year, I was moved to see Ms. Sosa come out of retirement to sing with Colombia's No.1 sex symbol, Shakira, at a concert to benefit the ALAS Foundation. What is not captured in this "official" video is Shakira's reaction after Sosa leaves the stage. She gushes like a star-struck adolescent about how she can't believe she just sang a duet with Sosa, how it was a dream come true. The gorgeous and wealthy Shakira turns into a little girl before the venerable "La Negra".

Remember these women every time you start to make an assumption about someone because of their appearance. Stop...and give them a chance.

Mercedes Sosa and Shakira, "La Maza" - Movimiento ALAS Benefit Concert

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