By Leah Greenblatt
Updated December 19, 2019 at 11:50 PM EST
Credit: Boyle: Andrew Milligan/AP Images; Spears: Frank Micelotta/Getty Images

If there’s anything that Idol wizards/pop connoisseurs Michael Slezak and Annie Barrett and I love, it’s yakking about our ridiculous obsessions (Martika songs, questionable made-for-TV products) when we’re supposed to be working, and then turning those yaks — tada! –into work.

Namely, the beyond-mondo Susan Boyle phenomenon. Our own Adam Markovitz has already posited whether some of the attention on her appearance is not, in fact, a little condescending (ohmagawd! How can a maybe-menopausal lady sing so good?!).

No doubt, Britain’s Got Talent producers sent her onstage knowing full well how Susan’s relative dowdiness would play onscreen — and are already squeezing her through the inevitable makeover machine (eyebrow-waxer powers, activate!).

To me, the loveliest thing about Boyle is her sweet lack of icky showbiz calculation — the unfortunate defining trait of nearly every other Seacrest-sidling make-me-a-star reality show contestant plying their trade today. But it also got Slezak and I wondering: how many other talented artists have been crushed — or merely failed to climb above mid-level notice — because of their looks?

He pointed to sixth-season Idol finalists Melinda Doolittle and Lakisha Jones, who placed third and fourth on the show, respectively, despite having some of the clearest natural gifts in the contestant pool. On the flipside, I give you Jessica Simpson, who looks like a Real Doll, yet continuously fails to remember the words to her own songs.

Obviously, pop music will, with a few inevitable exceptions, always be a place for pretty people — some of questionable talent, and some just genuine genetic lottery winners. (Fifty years ago, listeners may have swooned to Roy Orbison’s baritone, but Elvis had the voice and the hips.) Still, are we possibly moving towards a more democratic ideal? Zaftig, smoky-voiced Brit Adele beat out pretty little beanpoles like the Jonas Brothers and Duffy at the Grammys this year, and stars like Amy Winehouse and Lady Gaga aren’t so much conventionally attractive as seriously Working a Look.

I could ramble on all afternoon, so I turn it to you, readers: Do you feel any kind of sea change in the beauty standards of pop music, or is this all same as it ever was? Which artists you think have been held back by their looks, and which have clearly succeeded on the sole strength of the physical goods their mama gave them?