Susan Boyle has always been one of the more interesting alumni of the current mainstream obsession with televised talent shows. When she first appeared on Britain's Got Talent in an ill-fitting gold dress and displayed actual vocal talent she was portrayed as a sort of 'ugly-duckling', playing directly against the pre-conceptions of the viewing public forcing them to consider how can someone who isn't 20 years old, blonde and caked in makeup possibly have a good voice? Boyle's post TV career has continued to play on this theme with calculated shrewdness, marketing her directly based on her image even if it is less conventional than the Cher Lloyd's or JLS's that usually get thrust into the limelight on shows like these.
Susan Boyle can sing, of that there is no doubt and this is immediately apparent, but rarely engaging, upon listening to her third album Someone To Watch Over Me. Throughout the course of the album she tackles covers of vocalists of the repute of Joni Mitchell and Jeff Buckley, though never attaining anywhere near the heights of the original recordings. 'Both Sides Now' falls flat, while the delicate intricacy of Buckley's 'Lilac Wine' is outside of Boyle's capabilities. An attempt at Gary Jules' version of 'Mad World' neuters the song of the claustrophobic sense of longing which makes it so moving. Like much of the album, Boyle is just going through the motions.
Sure, Susan Boyle doesn't look like Lana Del Ray but the fact remains that she doesn't sing as well as her either. The collective guilt which was levied upon us for judging her before she sang on that Saturday evening in April 2009 has surely been purged now. Simon Cowell has played the part of snake oil salesman very well, but the illusion is wearing thin. Having now shifted millions of units of her albums worldwide and been named by Time magazine as the seventh most influential person in the world, the focus has to surely concentrate on the quality of the music rather than the theatre of her situation, and it's nothing more than average.