My sister Sarah has a form of asperger's syndrome and a phenomenal show-stopping Broadway voice. She is Susan Boyle, before Boyle was discovered by youtube.
Now before I get sued for slander I should say that I have no knowledge if Boyle has high functioning aspergers or any other disorder, just that I see my sister in her and even more so in people's reactions to her. I have a hard time talking about my sister and her peculiarities. Sarah is also squarely built and frumpy. She is also oblivious to the social cues around her. When we were both in college briefly, she was a freshman as I was graduating, I took her to a party where she sat on the couch and ate a bag of chips; cheerfully and purposefully, without attempting to make conversation with anyone. I asked her if she was having a good time and she said yes, that it was a really nice party. As soon as that bag of chips was gone she asked to go home. When I watch the clip of Susan munching on her sandwich backstage, its that moment with Sarah that I see.
Like Susan my sister will probably live with our mother for the rest of her life. When my mother dies, she will move in with me and my family. She does not have the crazy high IQ of some asperger's folks, she has the less hip asperger's fate of having a below average IQ. (She's actually just 10 points to high to automatically qualify for SSI benefits.) She will probably never have a boyfriend and she will probably never be kissed. Honestly, she doesn't seem that interested in it, and has put effort into avoiding the few boys that have liked her.
What Sarah loves is music. She can't read sheet music, but she plays piano and flute, though neither with much grace or ability. She listens to her ipod for hours and hours during the day and can give you a complete musicological genealogy of show tune history and most country music styles. (She can also name all the presidents and the dates of their term in office, in order.)
She can also sing. Boy, oh, boy can she sing.
When Susan Boyle walked onto that stage people did not really expect her to be able to sing. Though few would be able to explain why they didn't expect her to be able to sing. They just say she looked frumpy. What they mean is that she didn't quite match the social cues around her. Normal people (and I use the term "normal" loosely) typically try to adapt their dress and behavior to fit the social setting and "be like everyone else." Susan Boyle didn't, and she didn't seem to have any qualms or embarrassment at not "fitting in." She didn't seem to notice. From her church choir dress, to missing Simon Cowell's attempt to invite her into a joke about the size of her village, to her own strangely timed joke about her age/size, to finally marching directly off stage at the end of her song despite the standing ovation, Susan was not quite in sync with the rest of the Britain’s Got Talent production. Generally people who can't do the mental math of perceiving how they are viewed from the outside in these shallow ways are also not good at assessing their own skill, at say singing, in an objective manner. They are the people who tend to get humored.
Sarah doesn't know how to respond to people clapping for her either.
My sister sings with a special choir for disabled people now. She is their superstar. It is not uncommon after performances for people to tell me or my mother that she has "real talent" and that we should encourage her to audition for professional shows or more competitive choirs around town. I always thank them. I never tell them that in the five years it took Sarah to finish high school she was never given a spot on the schools award winning show choir, even though the director told us she certainly had the voice for it. The list of reasons were as follows: she wasn't coordinated enough, even simple dance moves leave Sarah totally baffled; she couldn't do the acting, Sarah will make eye contact, but she gets nervous and unreasonable giggly about it; she had lots of trouble memorizing, an odd but true problem considering all the other facts she had stuck in her head; and finally, no matter what any of us did with her hair, make-up, or clothes, she just looked frumpy. Sarah, despite her voice, her gorgeous voice, would never be Elaine Paige.
I truly hope that Boyle gets a recording contract. I hope she is not exploited. I hope she and her cat have a long happy life full of evenings singing kareoke at the pub. I hope, stupidly, that the public is kind to her. I have watched as strangers, years of strangers, have heard my sister sing and then declared with absolute certainty that she has "it". They praise her and then disappear. I hope for Boyle its different.