Someone named Susan Boyle appeared with me on Oprah

I had the fantastic pleasure of playing on Oprah last week along with 14 of my violinist compadres. We were backing up Britain’s Got Talent phenom Susan Boyle in a song from her album.

Watch it right here on Oprah’s site. Just look for the shaved head, second row, in the middle.

We had a rehearsal on Tuesday the 12th, with just us and the choir. Then a short run-through with Boyle before we taped it on Wednesday the 13th. Boyle was very nice, but other than saying hello when she first arrived on stage, we didn’t have any interaction with her. Though she is really singing, the violins weren’t mic’d, so you’re actually hearing the track. That’s pretty common with this sort of thing, as it limits the possibility of mistakes. It also means they only had to tape the segment once. In a way, I’m surprised they didn’t tape it twice, just to have some coverage.

A producer warmed up the audience beforehand and gave several women the opportunity to demonstrate their singing talents. I’m a sucker for people having their dreams fulfilled, so it was great to see that the show gives its audience a little taste of that. The producer also asked the audience a lot of questions, which I imagine is a way to find people who Oprah might want to chat with during the show.

For me, though, the most amazing part of the show is also something you won’t see on the air: Oprah’s entrance. Bonkers. Not “throwing chairs, ripping off clothing, forswearing oxygen” bonkers, just pure adulation and love. Now, the studio seats maybe 150 at the most, so we’re not talking about a lot of people, but it sounds like a train passing overhead. And Oprah simply stands there, regally. After a bit, she moves through the audience shaking hands and hugging people and they’re crying and she just accepts it and laughs with them and they laugh with her. Eventually things calm down and it’s all about the show, but she really takes the time to let her audience have that moment with her. Cool.

Oprah talked to a couple audience members while Boyle came on stage and waited behind the “chiffon reveals” (what the crew called the curtains). I wondered what it was like for Boyle to hear the audience talking about how their lives had been changed by her story. And I thought back to last spring when MT made me watch The YouTube video (dammit what an amazing moment). And I thought about how a year ago, no one had heard of Susan Boyle, and now here she is on one of the most popular television shows in the world.

I’m mighty cynical about shows like American Idol and Britain’s Got Talent. For the most part, it’s pure exploitation. And to be sure, Boyle is being exploited right this very minute. But her story manages to surpass it. She forces all of us to confront our prejudice and fear, and she gives inspiration to countless dreamers.

Right. So, Oprah introduced Susan Boyle and we performed and the platform on which we sat moved up and down and there was a lot of glitter which remains stuck in my shoes. Then Oprah came up on stage and said “thanks guys” and we were gone.

I couldn’t snag photos of the taping since our phones/cameras were confiscated when we entered the building. But I did manage to take a few grainy shots during rehearsal the day before.

My thanks to Arnie Roth and everyone at AWR Music for the gig!


17 thoughts on “Someone named Susan Boyle appeared with me on Oprah

  1. CanadianBill says:

    Thanks for the interesting take from your perspective on Susan Boyle’s appearance. Especially interesting to learn that Susan was behind the curtain while her fans were speaking about her.

    As for Susan not interacting with you all, she would have been very nervous before singing – like most singers – and probably concentrating very hard on what she was about to do.

    As for Susan being exploited, if so, she sure does seem to be enjoying it. She said on an appearance in France, “I’ll go anywhere they want me to go. I love a challenge.”

    • Dave says:

      It’s also not that common for big-name artists to interact with musicians in a “pick-up” group like this. The couple exceptions I can think of were Mel Torme and Bjork, both of whom worked pretty closely with us to get the sound they wanted. Of course, the difference there is that we could actually be heard.

      I certainly wasn’t put out that Susan didn’t say much to us, and wouldn’t have expected it, anyway.

      And I truly hope she’s having a good time, and that she’s able to stay in control of her career.

  2. Thanks for your inside view of Susan’s appearance. But are you sure we were hearing the track and not you all? I would think they used so many violinists (instead of 2 or 3) was so you wouldn’t need to be mic’d. Also could there have possibly been a couple mic’s overhead that you didn’t notice? That’s what they do here in Kansas City when our orchestra performs, use overhead mic’s and not mic the individual instruments.

    • Dave says:

      They told us we weren’t mic’d, so we’re definitely there for the visuals. I’m not as sure about the choir, as I remember seeing two mics on either side of the stage in front of them. I’d be surprised if those were really in use, however, as the room was pretty noisy with all the equipment and fog machines and fans, and the choir mics seemed too far away to get clean sound. Susan was right on top of her mic, of course. Do you play in the KC Symphony? I have a couple friends in that orchestra.

  3. Hampsong says:

    “She (Susan Boyle) forces all of us to confront our prejudice and fear, and she gives inspiration to countless dreamers.”

    Thank you, Dave, for writing about your experience playing violin for Susan Boyle on Oprah. Thank you for your years of practicing the violin to be able to play for Susan. Your performance of Who I Was Born To Be with Susan Boyle was wonderful and very moving. I needed Kleenex tissues. Thanks for writing about this special time. We Susan Boyle fans really appreciate it.

    • Dave says:

      I think exploitation can be both good and bad. And Boyle is certainly exploiting this moment herself. Heck, so am I! But we’ve all seen the ugly side over the years as well.

  4. Aaron G says:

    Cool post, Dave. Interesting. What a neat experience you got to have!

    p.s. MT, I’ll give you a chiffon reveal… Right in the kisser.*

    * I’m not sure what that means.

  5. neighbor Dave says:

    as far as shooting for coverage is concerned… I’m sure they had enough cameras rolling and as each camera is iso’d (isolated, as in being taped independently) they were able to go in a fix whatever missed shots there were, if any, in post.

    I’ll bet you’re right about the choir, too. Why would that be live if you weren’t. I also heard other backing tracks… drums, bass, etc.

    I can hear the director and producer in the booth after the take, “We got it. Moving on.”

  6. Chuck Barthelme says:

    I must admit, though I’d heard of her, I’d never actually heard her sing. I just went back and watched her audition for Britain’s Got Talent on youtube. WOW! I can’t believe she made it that far in life without someone noticing she could sing like that!

    Pretty cool to play with her, though that Violin part looks a touch boring.


  7. Your Wedding Crashers says:

    Hi Dave! What a cool experience for you and what a touching write up. Thanks for describing so perfectly what it was like for you. I’m all emotional now.

    Cathy & Bas

  8. Phyllis says:

    Love your write-up, Dave. It will be fun to pass this along to my friends & tell them my cousin’s son is the shiny purple spot behind Susan’s shoulder!

  9. Damon says:

    Dave, what fun! But allow me to weigh in in the “exploitation” debate, which seems to have raised some discussion.

    I think you have mixed up “exploitation” with “capitalization” . . . especially in your follow up comments in which you say “exploitation” can be a good and bad thing.

    “Capitalization” of an opportunity can be a great thing everyone one involved: Susan Boyle, the Record Company (aka the evil corporation “exploiting” her), Oprah Winfrey, “we” the audience who enjoy her story, and every one in between.

    Make no mistake, no one mentioned above would trade this experience! Susan Boyle is thrilled to be in stage . . . I love hearing the story . . . you love playing for her on Oprah Winfrey . . . and the record company enjoys raking in the profits (and sharing a percentage with Susan let’s not forget!)

    We have all capitalized on this chain of events.

    “Exploitation” is taking advantage of “capitalization” in an unfair way: such as child actors who say they wished they had never been on TV (Gary Coleman anyone?) They were “Exploited” both by the corporation that hired them AND the parents who made the ultimate decision that the child actor was denied. Those who are exploited either did not have a part of the decision, or were mislead somehow.

    My analysis may be flawed somewhat . . .but I am certainly not going to lose any sleep over the exploitation of Susan Boyle. If living your dream means being exploited, than sign me up to be exploited please!


  10. Karen says:

    What an interesting story, Dave. I missed it the first time around but enjoyed it now. I very much agree with Damon about “capitalization,” as Susan Boyle is loving every minute of the new career she got out of BGT. She had the talent, but it took a viral YouTube video to launch her. The biggest winners, besides the lady herself, are the multitude of fans who absolutely love her singing. Priceless!

    P.S. Dave, did you ever live in Kansas? I knew a David Belden there, long ago.

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