Monday 1 June 2009

What next for Susan Boyle?

After the final of Britain’s Got Talent over the weekend, it was revealed today that the runner-up and competition favourite Susan Boyle had been admitted to the Priory Clinic suffering from emotional exhaustion. According to reports she was rushed to the Priory after beginning to act strangely following her defeat to the dance group Diversity.

It’s been well documented that Boyle has a mild learning disability, and up until her appearance on the show had led quite a sheltered and protected life in Scotland. Her rise to fame has clearly been meteoric, and the stress and attention focussed on her would be difficult for most people to deal with. Taking all of this into consideration, I’m interested in looking at how the show's management intend to provide the necessary support and help that Boyle will need over the forthcoming months.

I think this poses a big challenge to the show along with other reality TV programmes in terms how they support potentially vulnerable people who have been catapulted into the public eye.

Up until last week I hadn’t watched any of BGT, but I was obviously aware of Susan Boyle. Clearly in her first appearance she was set up as the middle aged, unattractive spinister, who would surely humiliate herself on national television. Instead she shocked everyone with her singing ability and the phenomenon began.

With shows like BGT and X Factor it's not just about contestants having real talent and ability, it’s also about having a story to tell. The stories are usually about achieving a dream, overcoming various set backs in life, trying to realise your ambitions in memory of dead relative. I do get fed up sometimes with the ‘emotional blackmail’ these programmes try to inflict upon you. In Boyle’s case her back-story was brilliant for the show and slightly different from other contestants.

With Boyle’s back story I think it’s going to be interesting and quite challenging to see how the show goes forward in marketing and managing her, particularly as such shows do not always have a great track record of supporting contestants once the cameras have gone, and public interest has moved on.

A couple of months ago I read a feature in the Sunday Times magazine entitled ‘What happens to X factor runners up?’ It looked at how previous finalists on the show had fared, and to be honest it was quite a mixed bag in terms of the stories people had to tell. What comes across is how the first 6 months provide the biggest opportunity of cashing in on their new found fame, but the show’s management company also look at this period as being best opportunity of making the most profit out of the contestants.

Once key management lose their interest, many contestants are left to sink or swim by themselves in the daunting world of the entertainment industry. One previous contestant Andy Abraham (runner-up in 2005) gave his opinion on what contestants can expect following the end of the show.

“They’ll realise quickly, that the industry doesn’t want them.”

Will the industry still want Susan Boyle in 12 months time? A backlash against her already began to emerge a couple of weeks ago, but I wonder whether once people move on from the novelty of her looks and the fact that she can actually sing, will anyone be interested in her story? The way that she looks and her background in Scotland is surely the great appeal about her. If she suddenly received a glossy make-over and began to live a celebrity lifestyle wouldn’t her original appeal be lost?

I have no idea how this story is going to play out in the next few months and even years but it’s going to be fascinating to watch. I’m wondering whether the show’s producers and management have some sort of moral responsibility to ensure that Boyle is provided with the appropriate support necessary, in order for her to fulfil her ambitions and to cope with the pressures and challenges that this new found fame will bring to her. Can they really afford to dump her when she’s no longer of interest or making money in the same way that has happened with previous X Factor contestants? I’m not sure the viewing public would accept that kind of behaviour, but I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see.

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