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The Susan Boyle phenomenon: redefining beauty, grace, and success?

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But her sudden rise to popularity is prompting many commentators, even those not usually noted for their interest in light entertainment, to find a deeper meaning in her performance.

"Boyle let me feel ... the meaning of human grace.... She reordered the measure of beauty. And I had no idea until the tears sprang how desperately I need that corrective," said Entertainment Weekly writer Lisa Schwarzbaum.

Robert Canfield, a professor of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., quotes Ms. Schwarzbaum in his blog where he typically comments on Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran.

[Editor's Note: A quote by Lisa Schwarzbaum was incorrectly attributed to Robert Canfield.]

Dr. Canfield says, in response to emailed questions, that Boyle captured "the hopes of a multitude."

Her performance resonates with millions, he says, because "most of us in our heart of hearts have severe doubts about ourselves.

"So when a Susan Boyle appears on stage before a clearly condescending audience in a society that can read class status in every move, the hairdo, the dress, she appears as a loser. And we feel for her. We see how precarious her position is, how vulnerable she is, and we feel for her," he writes in his email.

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