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Susan Boyles’ spectacular success has generated quite a controversy over pop culture’s fascination with supermodel songstresses. After reading several didactic articles in serious publications lecturing on the moral sin of confusing looks and talent, I began to smell a rat somewhere.

Certainly we do expect glamour from our heroes.  Vicarious vanity is no recent development; Stephen Frears had us laughing at this classic human fault in his  1992 media farce Hero. The glamor factor has always played a particularly important role in our choice of divas; Marlene Dietrich, Lena Horne, Diana Ross, Madonna, Britney Spears, ad nauseum.

What the social critics conveniently overlook are the many fabulous exceptions.  Nobody set a beauty barrier for the talents of  Sarah Vaughn, Ethel Merman, Bette Midler, Cindy Lauper or even the queen diva herself, Barbra Streisand. I suppose you could argue that the MTV generation placed greater visual demands on pop performers, but even in this age of image worship we still find talent that succeeds without selling super-sex.

On another level, I wondered what the reaction would have been if Ms. Boyle had simply been an ordinary looking thirty-something and not the antithesis of glamour. Is the overwhelming reaction to her talent just another expression of our obsession with image, like reverse snobbery?

Many people may have doubted that any talent could come from the likes of Susan Boyle, but other less than glamorous women are recognized for their talent in spite of their ungainly image.

I collected a few examples of female vocalists currently reigning on the pop charts; three supermodels, two normal folk and one oddity.  Click on the photos and decide which you think is the most talented.

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