As soon as she started talking I thought "she seems to be slightly learning disabled." I suspect that the majority of the audience, not being as disability aware as me, thought that she was just stupid:
Stupid for appearing on national television in an unflattering dress.
Stupid for appearing on national television without running a bit of Frizz Ease through her fuzzy hair.
Stupid for appearing on national television with unplucked eyebrows. Surely everyone's heard of tweezers and noticed that everyone on telly has skinny eyebrows? She must be stupid to have not noticed that.
Stupid to think that she's sexy enough to flirt with the judges.
Tanya Gold wrote in The Guardian about how Susan was a victim of 'uglyism' until she burst into song. I think she was a victim of a different ism - disablism.
It wouldn't matter if Susan's IQ was less than 70 (the typical criteria for a "learning disabled" label) or over 170... she appeared to be learning disabled, and the audience both those present and watching at home, judged her on that appearance and started discriminating accordingly.
In Yesterday's Hate Mail she "came out" as learning disabled (I don't read it, I promise. Someone pointed the link out on a disability messageboard):
She had suffered mild brain damage after being starved of oxygen at birth.
Recalling her childhood, she said earlier this week: 'I was born with a disability and that made me a target for bullies.'
Rather entertainingly that article also says "Her rather wild hairdo and bushy eyebrows have led her to be dubbed the 'hairy angel' in some quarters." - It was their paper that gave her that name!
There's a global assumption that disabled people can't have any talent for anything; and so the audience having given her the label of stupid assumed that there was no possible way she could actually be a good singer. Surely if she's too stupid to know how one should appear on TV she must be so stupid that she thinks she's got a talent even though she can't have?
And so they laughed.
Then she sang. The laughter stopped.
Suddenly everything turned round, instead of laughing at her, the audience applauded along with her.
But this applause was of course also the result of a disablist belief system. The world has such low expectations of us that when we turn out to be capable of doing something that warrants far more praise than if a non-disabled person had the same skill.
I thought Susan's performance was great, I think it's great that a disabled person has shot to fame for being talented. I think it's great that a disabled person is now admired by the disablists that were bullying her only 2 weeks ago.
I have to wonder though, would she be the global phenomenon she is if her learning impairment hadn't been so apparent during the pre-audition interview?