Susan Boyle – is a voice enough?

The UK has produced many musical stars over the last couple of decades who have each contributed their own special talents to classical music. Charlotte Church – the child star, the ‘Voice of an Angel’: great voice, great face, iconic rise to fame. Charlotte Church the teenage Hell’s Angel (great voice, great face) reformed and became the much loved family girl we know now, proving to be a multi talented yummy mummy with gorgeous dresses and her own chat show (oh, and a great voice.) Hot on her heels is Katherine Jenkins, great voice, great face. There’s a pattern emerging here.

Susan Boyle – great voice…er….and now we begin our inner struggle with each of our personal demons. Because, unlike the aforementioned, she has no looks, no charisma and as she has proved many times in recent weeks, absolutely no fashion sense. The real question is does art have to be pretty? It is a question that painters and sculptors have been wrestling with for years but it becomes very pertinent in the music world for people like Susan. There is a practical element to this question of course, based on the fact that the large majority of leading lady roles require a young and attractive damsel. However, the sad fact is that even when the role does not require it, 9 times out of 10 the director will choose a young beauty who then spends 3 hours in make-up every day striving to look older or uglier.

Should her looks affect her art? Is there a niche in music for girls who don’t look as though they have stepped out of the pages of Vogue? And should older ladies feel such pressure to keep their looks or figures? Clive James talked to the BBC about how the attitudes of the judges on Britain’s Got Talent proved that we tend to expect beautiful people to be talented and vice versa. I’m sure you, like me, can think up many cases which do not bear out this theory.

You can see Susan’s performance on Britain’s got Talent on YouTube. Tell us what you think. Is her voice beautiful enough to overcome our prejudices? And which mediums could do more to showcase the talents of musicians like her? Or should she just accept that for the people we look at on stage or in concerts, beauty is part of the package – an essential element of the overall experience.

This story seems to have touched women everywhere – their looks never stopped the likes of Pavarotti and Paul Potts. But gender stereotyping in alive and well in the music world.  Cosmopolitan told Susan’s story from a woman’s point of view and leads me to ask whether a make-over is really what she needs or should she continue to stand up for women everywhere who have a talent but happen to look like the back end of a bus…