NEAL CONAN, host:
Last week, Scottish singer Susan Boyle dazzled the world.
(Soundbite from "Britain's Got Talent")
Ms. SUSAN BOYLE: (Singing) As they tear your hopes apart. As they turn your dream to shame.
CONAN: She's now considered the heavy favorite to win the top spot on the U.K. reality show, "Britain's Got Talent." But while millions call her voice sensational, her appearance is not. The 47-year-old has been described as homely, dowdy, matronly, frumpy. Offers to modify that have poured in - change her hair, her eyebrows, her makeup, her dresses. So far, the Scottish lady replies, no, thanks.
Washington Post fashion editor Robin Givhan thinks she might want to reconsider. So, should Susan Boyle get a makeover? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. E-mail, email@example.com. You can also join the conversation on our Web site, that's an npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION.
And Robin Givhan joins us from our bureau in New York. Nice to have you back in the program today.
Ms. ROBIN GIVHAN (Fashion Editor, Washington Post): It's nice to be back, Neal.
CONAN: And we should say that you point out at the beginning, you're not talking about buckets of Botox here.
Ms. GIVHAN: No, absolutely not. It seemed that no small number of chatters on the live chat I did on washingtonpost.com earlier seemed to think that I was advocating that Susan Boyle go for the full-on Botox, nip-tuck, dramatic weight loss, injections and whatever else she might, you know, be able to find.
But what I was really saying is that it would be, I think, a good thing for her to avail herself of a fine hairstylist, a little help with the wardrobe, maybe a little eyebrow arching.
CONAN: I love the line in your piece in the morning's paper saying, let her fairy godmother finish the story.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. GIVHAN: Exactly. I mean, I think, part of the reason that people, well, the enormous part of the reason why people have sort of fallen in love with her is that she is this fairy tale come to reality. She is this very unlikely character who has sort of beaten the system that demands that the people in the spotlight be a 10 or a nine, be pretty gorgeous. And I think that's really captivated people and made them think that dreams can come true for ordinary people.
But as I said in the piece, part of that storyline is in fact the transformation, the blossoming, the transformation into the butterfly.
CONAN: The ugly duckling becoming the swan.
Ms. GIVHAN: Exactly.
CONAN: And I don't think Susan Boyle is ever going to be an eight or a nine or a 10, but she could be…
Ms. GIVHAN: Oh, Neal.
CONAN: …a better version of herself, is what you - put it.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. GIVHAN: Yes. You know, I was trying to explain to someone that there's a lot of space in between trying to transform yourself into another Angelina Jolie and simply putting a little polish on, you know, and making yourself look - making you feel like you're having a great hair day every day.
CONAN: And this is not because her future is going to include trips to the grocery store, it's because her future, inevitably, is going to include a recording contract and concerts.
Ms. GIVHAN: Well, she said that her dream was to be a professional singer. And part of that means that you're standing up in front of an audience as an entertainer, and it's a full-on production. It's a package. It's not just about having a wonderful voice.
I think we probably all know someone who has a terrific voice, but they're simply not professional singing material because they don't have the presence. They're not willing to step up to the challenge of also being the full package, of having the visual statement as well as the oral statement.
CONAN: Well, let's get some listeners involved in the conversation, 800-989-8255. E-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll start with Norman(ph). Norman with us from Cleveland.
NORMAN (Caller): Yeah. She doesn't need a makeover. She's got to look good, she's got to get her hair styled. I - there are plenty of singers who are not eight, nines or 10s, but you still got to get dressed up for the part. Look at Brigitte Nielsen. I mean, she's big and she looks wonderful on stage. And this gal will also. I don't know why this hasn't happened before. On the YouTube, there's something that she had done in - when, in 2001? - where she did "Cry Me A River." And unbelievable, she's wonderful. And she deserves everything that she can get, but she needs to be put in the hands of professional handlers.
CONAN: Professional handlers. And you noted in the piece, Robin Givhan, the contestants on these programs are put in the hands of professional handlers.
Ms. GIVHAN: Yeah. You know, it's funny that the caller used the word makeover and sort of insinuated that it's a bit of a stumbling block. I think, in some ways, everyone understands that when performers get ready to take the stage, they do have handlers. They have people who come on and make sure that the makeup is good, that, you know, to make sure that they can see their eyes from, you know, the farthest reaches of the balcony, that the dress looks terrific. And, you know, that, essentially, is a makeover. We see it all the time on a television show like "American Idol." People invariably look better by the end of that show than they did when they started out.
CONAN: Norman, thanks very much.
Let's go now to - this is Hollis(ph). Hollis with us from Berkeley.
HOLLIS (Caller): Hi.
HOLLIS: I'm sorry you were even having this conversation on your show. I think it degrades us all, and it cuts to the heart of what is wrong with America. And that is valuing the superficial over the substantial. I don't care what she's going to look like if she plucks her eyebrows. I want to know what she sounds like when she sings Cole Porter and Gershwin. That's what I want to hear next. I don't care what she's wearing, what her earrings look like. I want to hear her interpretation of Rodgers and Hart.
CONAN: And does it make any difference that she may or may not get that opportunity unless she adheres to what a lot of people would call professional standards?
HOLLIS: I think that there are plenty of singers who have succeeded and not given themselves a makeover. It's just a sign of our times.
CONAN: Like who?
HOLLIS: Oh, I don't know. I mean…
(Soundbite of laughter)
HOLLIS: There are - I don't want to name names. There are plenty of opera singers that look like they got smacked with a bat. And, you know, they still have amazing voices. And that's what I want to hear. I don't care what she looks like. She has a really interesting voice, and it's someone that I want to hear from.
CONAN: Okay. Hollis, thanks very much. Appreciate it.
Let's see if we can go next to - this is Susan(ph). Susan with us from St. George in Utah.
SUSAN (Caller): Hi, there.
SUSAN: I definitely think she should get a makeover. She is fabulous. Everyone I know has heard of her hundreds of times. They play it over and over again and cry. We need to do the best that we can as long as we can.
CONAN: And, you know, it's interesting, Robin Givhan, the person I think of when I look at her and listen to her - the artistic analogy is not exact - but you think of Ella Fitzgerald in, like, the last 25 years of her career who was no longer as charmingly winsome as she was when she was a young girl, but sang beautifully and dressed beautifully and was terrific on stage.
Ms. GIVHAN: Yeah. You know, it's - I think it's telling that we have to go back a ways before we can point to performers who were able to really come into their own and find success without having to push themselves into any particular kind of mold. But, I mean, I would also say that, you know, look back to the days of Motown, and Motown performers were really put through the rigors - everything from knowing how to dress to charm school. I mean, that was part of their training as performers. So I do think it's a bit disingenuous to say that appearance doesn't matter. Appearance matters in almost everything that we do. And for someone who is - who wants to be in a profession that is so visual, I think you have to face that. And while we would like for her to be able to change the industry standards, I think at the moment she is still a bit of a novelty - a wonderful novelty with a terrific voice. But she's not having an impact on entertainment industry standards. She's just making us feel good.
CONAN: Susan, thanks for the call.
SUSAN: Yes. Yeah. I - thank you.
CONAN: Okay. Bye-bye.
Let's see if we can go get one more caller in. This is Sandy(ph). Sandy with from Denver.
SANDY (Caller): Hi. Thank you so much for taking my call. You know, this whole thing is just ridiculous. She's not Britney Spears, she's never going to be Britney Spears. She's a singer.
You know, if you go back to the days of the old Victrola, nobody even knew what these people looked like. People tuned in to them because of the way they sounded, because of the way that their emotions came through on the song. Granted, she could possibly do something with the eyebrows, but the bottom line is, they're her eyebrows. If she's happy with them, the rest of us should be.
Thanks so much. I'll take the comments off the air. Bye.
CONAN: All right, Sandy. Thanks very much. And thanks to whoever else was in the room there, too.
(Soundbite of laughter)
And I have to say, that's the majority of the reactions that we're getting, Robin Givhan. And I know that's the majority of the reactions you got earlier today when you were onthe chat at washingtonpost.com.
Ms. GIVHAN: Yeah. You know, but I think people are - have this extreme vision that it's either Britney Spears or nothing. There's a lot in between Britney Spears and the days of Victrola and - when you never really saw the person who was performing. The reality is that we don't live in that period anymore. And frankly, Susan Boyle wouldn't be Susan Boyle if we didn't live in this age where everything is so visual and media is everywhere. I mean, she is an Internet/YouTube creation. She's not the creation of, you know, an audio clip. She is the creation of a video clip.
CONAN: And here's an email we got from Joel(ph) in Elkhart, Indiana. I guess somebody forgot to tell Willie Nelson the importance of appearance and the It factor. Well, I think there might be something else going on…
(Soundbite of laughter)
…with Willie there. Robin Givhan, thank you so much for your time today. We appreciate it.
Ms. GIVHAN: It was a pleasure.
CONAN: Robin Givhan is the Washington Post fashion editor with us today from our bureau in New York.
And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION coming to you from NPR News.
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