Susan Boyle's lightspeed ascension to fame and inversely proportional emotional well-being has been utterly tragic. But: in what might be a watershed pop culture moment, Simon Cowell has admitted some culpability and taken responsibility in a newspaper editorial.
Writing for the Daily Mail, Simon Cowell penned a pretty fascinating 2,000-plus word editorial on his feelings towards this entire season of Britain's Got Talent. The entire thing is, in all honesty, quite candid and amazing. Some could view this as a PR coup, but reading it, you can't resist the temptation to think that sometimes - no matter how well handled a public image is - sometimes, some people succumb to the urge to speak out publicly, and this was that moment for Cowell.
As we've all well heard by now, Boyle's been having meltdown after meltdown since losing the massively popular Britain's Got Talent compeition. Small woman from a small town gets overexposed to fame, loses in front of millions, and gets admitted to a mental hospital shortly thereafter. They thought Boyle was sane enough to go out on tour shortly after the competition ended - and after she was released from her mental health care - but she's had to cancel performance after performance for any number of undisclosed reasons. Cowell addresses it all.
He first notes that he didn't pick up on anything unusual at first, but knew something was wrong the moment Boyle lost the competition...
We didn't handle the situation with Susan as well as we could have...I don't know that I could have done it any differently..I didn't pick up on any unduly troubling signs...when the dance group Diversity won, I looked over at her face and thought: 'Christ, she doesn't know how to deal with not winning.'..It was a bad moment.
...And then gets introspective, admitting the troubling self-doubt he had that evening when he got home.
I remember having a drink that night and trying to relax, but still feeling a bit strange. Something just didn't feel right. And sure enough, it wasn't. No need to repeat the details here - that wouldn't be fair to Susan...
Finally, he gets to the part where he asks Boyle's family if he should've done things differently, if he shouldn't have allowed her to attempt to go on tour. They didn't see any way for him to have done so. He reveals that he actually sat down with them to discuss this. Boyle's family's been mostly - questionably - quiet on the matter. On one hand, you could easily get conspiratorial about this. On the other, silence often implies consent. And Cowell dishes:
Last week, I met them in my London office and I asked them: 'Tell me honestly; did we do right or did we do wrong?' What I meant was, was it right to allow Susan to carry on performing in the show once it became clear that she was finding it stressful? And they said, unanimously, that we did the right thing. They said that Susan has always wanted to sing and had sat at home for years, wishing that she had a chance.
He also gets into his feelings on having children on show, and his treatment of them. In regards to the kids crying, he notes that it "made [him] feel worse than anything else...It was a huge, huge mistake."
Unfortunately, Cowell doesn't get into his harsh, almost sadistic treatment of American Idol contestants, nor does he lay out a plan for making sure lives like Boyle's aren't affected in the future the way hers was. But for a guy who essentially pioneered the art and culture of taking regular people with often ludicrous ambitions of fame and essentially giving it to them regardless of consequence, this is kind of a big deal.
Maybe not pragmatically, maybe not logistically, but certainly philosophically. The same thing happened with Chuck Barris later in his life, when he started writing books admitting to the incredible emptiness years of doing average-joe-exploitation TV show The Gong Show had filled him with (forgetting Barris's insane/hysterical claim that he was a CIA spy). This could aspire Cowell to have a "cleaner burn" on the entertainment and culture he produces, one that has a staggeringly large reach. Probably not, but somehow, these words
I also accept, as the shows grow, that I have new responsibilities to my contestants.
kind of matter. Hopefully, Cowell's money-minting TV production machine will be proceeding for the betterment of the people it uses for show and for profits moving forward. It's kind of a pipe dream, but at least we can blame him for giving it to us, now.