Social Distortion: Did Shallow Social Media Sink Susan Boyle?

You probably had no idea who the hell Susan Boyle was seven weeks ago. And if you'd seen her mugshot, you probably wouldn't have cared. 'Twas easy to judge the homely, have-not warbler by her cover - 'til she opened her mouth, that is.

In a flash, The Woman Who Shut Up Simon Cowell was a household name the world over, fueled primarily by the most notorious wavemaker of all - YouTube. Next thing you knew, your co-workers were gushing that Boyle's performance made them weep into their lattes. You were receiving hokey e-mail forwards from your mother-in-law with Boyle's visage, captioned, "Believe in yourself!" You were invited to one of the many Facebook Fan Pages or Groups established in her honor (bonus points if you 'fess up to creating one).

Yet, in the Britain's Got Talent finale, Boyle failed to clinch the victor's opportunity to perform for the Queen, even though successes are viewer-determined and Susanmania had already looped 'round the 'net a few times. Instead, the ballyhoo-less yet adorable dance troupe Diversity took the cake.

It's easy to claim that aesthetics loomed large in the loss. The modern world can be an image-conscious cesspool, and when the keys hit the keypad, the courage of cyber balls is doubly unforgiving. Plus, who wouldn't want to lick the icing off this delicious, accented sweet tart? Ahem. But appearances probably weren't the reason anyway.

So why didn't YouTube deliver Boyle's dreams on a digital platter with a cyber bow? Could it be that the social web is - gasp! - deeper than a mere surface ripple?

Snap judgments aside, Boyle's virtual audience may've electronically ridden its one-trick pony ragged. Not only did she perform "I Dreamed a Dream" in her radar-registering performance, Boyle repeated the exact ditty in her final go at the title. And don't forget her semi-final performance, where a litany of flat opening notes had viewers refreshing their browsers in disbelief. The Internet is a fickle place, and it takes effort to wow and re-wow the masses. With this arsenal of information, fairweather fans might've simply sat back to let presumed popularity do its work, believing the initial catapult to stardom would suffice.

Perhaps Boyle was also a wee bit too human. Suddenly Susan could've handled the microscopic scrutiny in a myriad of ways, but disintegration was clearly the most attractive option. In the brouhaha before the final showdown, SuBo went loco outside a London hotel, and threatened to drop out of the contest. Adoring fans with her likeness tattooed to their asscheeks began to doubt their blind commitment and her perceived piety altogether. Internetland still wants to see a Cinderella fit into that digital glass slipper. But this fairy tale damsel had unraveled into a temperamental stepsister right before its very eyes.

Maybe her organic, online ascent to fame drew skepticism when she scored uncharacteristic support from Britain's Top Asshole. The Man Pop Culture Loves to Hate, apologizing to a contestant? Red flag, red flag! Shockingly, the Britain's Got Talent website came to Boyle's defense following her London expletive parade, saying the allegations "have been taken out of context." And, post-defeat, Cowell announced grandiose plans to sweep Boyle across the Atlantic to "conquer the U.S." A Cowell minion asserted that Americans don't care "whether she wins a British TV show - they care about the woman they saw singing on YouTube." Ouch.

It's debatable whether Americans give a crap about it if it didn't happen on YouTube, but the British sure as hell gave a damn. For all the follies committed by interwebs enthusiasts, it wasn't social media that did Boyle in. YouTube may have plucked her from obscurity, but the virtual world evidently demands more from its homegrown heroes in order to make Susan Boyle a winner.

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Fayza Elmostehi
Contact: Fayza Elmostehi