NPR logo 'Britain's Got Talent' Serves Up The Latest 'Upset' That Wasn't

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'Britain's Got Talent' Serves Up The Latest 'Upset' That Wasn't

Susan Boyle fans gather to watch her in the finals of Britain's Got Talent

Susan Boyle: Her fans may not have been prepared, but the way things ended for her was no surprise. Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images

Shocking! Upset!

Yes, that's right: Susan Boyle, who became instantly beloved, and almost as instantly overexposed, after singing "I Dreamed A Dream" on Britain's Got Talent, didn't win the final, which is being treated as a massive shock in most corners.

It isn't. Remember the backlash tracker? Susan Boyle was always going to lose this show. Always, always, always.

People will tell you that it was the fact that she was supposedly caught swearing this week, or that she lost her fans by getting a makeover, or that there was a bum note in "Memory." It wasn't. She was a story — not an arts story, but a digital-culture story — and her story did not include winning.

The predictable workings of the teardown industry and the natural cycle of competition shows, after the jump...

If reports hadn't emerged that she swore in a hotel, it would have been something else. As massive as the preposterous-hype industry is (which went well beyond just praising the performance and encouraged you to believe that she was an angel who would change music forever and was now the standard against which all other musicians must be judged), the teardown industry is bigger, and not by a small margin.

As sure as people were that you would pay attention to the initial story, "Adorable Scottish lady sings inspirational song," they are doubly sure that you will pay attention to the story, "Adorable Scottish lady actually overrated jerk." They would have told it, no matter what, as surely as many outlets that never, ever covered Jon & Kate Plus Eight when it was about a reasonably functional family are only too happy to feature it heavily now that it's turning into a massive, painful, genuinely destructive reality-show equivalent of a ten-car pileup.

Furthermore, Britain's Got Talent — just like American Idol and other similar competitions driven by fan voting — favors those who do not peak either too early or too high. It seemed like a toss-up going into the finals who would win Idol, between longtime favorite Adam Lambert and slow-building Kris Allen, but you know who was never, ever going to win? Danny Gokey, who was the earliest apparently unstoppable force.

Who won Dancing With The Stars a few weeks ago? Not either of the two favorites, Gilles Marini and Melissa Rycroft, but "underdog" Shawn Johnson. There are as many similar examples as there are shows of this kind. By the end, fans want a good story; they want an interesting story. And that doesn't include the horse that's been ahead for a half a lap strolling uneventfully across the finish line.

Some people manage to lead a season wire to wire and win, yes. But most don't. Most early favorites wear out. Most explosive phenomena have such short shelf lives that as shocking as it seems, they can't possibly be expected to maintain momentum from April 11 to the end of May. Remember, Paul Potts, the closest thing to Boyle that Britain's Got Talent has ever had, won the show — but he did it little more than a week after he first appeared. If Britain had been given seven weeks to think about that, he probably wouldn't have won either.

I loved Boyle's first performance. It was lovely and charming, and the fact that it was so widely enjoyed isn't a surprise at all. But the minute it became about her magical story, her inspirational tale, her angelic voice...she wasn't going to win.

There's a huge contrarian streak in popular culture. Being the only person to hate something everyone else likes can bring you attention that other people aren't getting. It can be a status symbol, a sign that you see what others don't, or just a mark of your individuality and your independence — "I'm no media-led sheep; I hate Susan Boyle!" As the meaning of something is inflated beyond any significance it ever should have had, cutting it back down to size becomes both easier and more appetizing.

She was never going to win. Don't be shocked. And don't feel bad for her. What's interesting is that her "shocking loss" puts her back on the side of the line where now, she can probably expect a comeback: "Adorable Scottish lady once believed to be inspirational angel then later believed to be overrated jerk actually highly talented symbol of resilience."

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