A fabulous performance with a huge unspoken question

Today's post builds on the issues discussed here and involves some audience participation. Got your No. 2 pencil ready? Good!

Step 1: Get a box of tissues.

Step 2: Watch this video. (Seriously, watch it. It's awesome and worthwhile, the rest of the post is about it and, c'mon, what else do you have to do right now?)

Step 3. Discuss.

In particular, I want you to ask yourself whether you think the producers should have indicated his disability earlier or later or not at all. How would your view of his performance have changed if you didn't know his backstory? Would his rendition of "Imagine" been as emotional, poignant and powerful? If he hadn't talked about his disability at all would you have been distracted during his performance, wondering what the deal was? If they hadn't said anything, would you wonder why they kept flashing on a white woman identified as his "mum" and his brother, another young Arabic amputee? Or is that all ultimately not relevant to his singing ability and therefore shouldn't be discussed?

Step 4. Scroll back to 1:20 when one of the judges asks how old Emmanuel is. Note how he responds: "I'm not exactly sure." Do you think he says that every time someone asks his age? Or does he have to decide each time someone asks him this simple question whether it's worth going into the whole story? Also note the pause after his answer. What if he hadn't voluntarily continued to talk about it? What would have been a polite way for the judges to ask about his disability — clearly a fascinating part of who he is — without seeming like they were prejudicial or trying to define him?

At what point do we address the elephant in the room?


  1. Anonymous5:53 PM

    In his pre-interview, I thought he'd said he was 17. So, he clearly has a short answer and a long answer. I have a feeling it was discussed beforehand exactly *what* he would tell the judges when they asked what his age was - they're milking this all for television, so they want to be as dramatic as possible. So the pause, who knows if it really happened live, or if that was edited in for dramatic effect (I'm guessing the latter).

    His disability totally wasn't relevant, except to provide drama, which all these shows do. Sure, I would've wondered what was up, but it makes no difference to his performance. During the flashes to his mother and brother, I would've assumed that either 1) his dad was Arabic and just not around, or 2) he and his brother were adopted, and I wouldn't have given it a second thought.

    And I disagree that his disability is a "fascinating part of who he is." A part of who he is? Sure. Fascinating, no. I sometimes feel that the opposite of completely disregarding disabled people is making them out to be more special than they are, simply because they have a disability (which is why I hate the term "special needs"). Sure, they have different struggles. But that doesn't make them any more fascinating.

    1. Really, Amy? You don't think getting blown up in Iraq when you were a boy and then getting adopted by a mother in Australia is interesting? You are a very hard woman to impress. I think we'll just have to agree to disagree on that one.

      I agree that the question and answer was orchestrated, but that's what I want people to think about. What is the appropriate way to ask about someone's disability? Is it even relevant? To you, clearly the answer is no and I appreciate your consistency.

    2. Anonymous6:09 PM

      Interesting, yes - though probably not the exact right word. But I read it as you saying *he* is fascinating because of it. To me, those are two very different things - everybody probably has an interesting story somewhere in their history, but it doesn't necessarily make *them* interesting as a whole. So it could have just been me misreading your question, or me not clearly enough explaining what I meant.

      I agree with the person below who said like her friend, he probably has a response based on different circumstances. I got a haircut today, and the woman had stubs on all 5 of her fingers on one hand. It was clearly a birth defect, because one of the stubs had a nail. But I would never think it's appropriate to ask a person I don't know about it. And then after I saw, it was out of my head. But despite all of that, I would rather have somebody ask me about Julia - even if I do think it's rude and inappropriate to have that be the 1st thing you ask. If they're going to sit there and wonder, to the point that it consumes their interaction with us, then yes, I want it out of the way. Otherwise, I think it eventually comes up naturally (like, in my moms groups, it usually came up in the beginning when I kept RSVPing no to events b/c of therapy, and people would ask what the therapy was for).

  2. I can't listen to it right now because I'm in a room full of people doing work, and I don't have my headphones. (Yeah, they're all being productive and I am not... lol)

    But as for the age question, I dated a guy who also didn't know his age. He was basically assigned a day based off of how old they thought he was when he was adopted. (the day was assigned by officials in his country, not his parents) If you asked him how old he was, he'd tell you, but he wouldn't go into the story unless it was someone he felt comfortable with. So he had a "typical" response and then a story that explained it for the people that he could trust with his past...

    I'll watch the video later and then comment on that stuff!

  3. Wow! I think I just emptied the box of Kleenex with this one. What a powerful story! It hit very close to home in a few ways with my girls. We adopted our daughters and my oldest is from China. She was abandoned and found in a shoebox at two days old, so when I heard him say he was found in a shoebox himself it brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for sharing this.

    1. Oh, I know. I was just sobbing.

  4. Disability is hard, but disability is beautiful. Should he talk about it? Absolutely! How else would we be able to appreciate the depth and significance of what took place? Did he just sing? No, I don't think so. When Nina walks, is she just walking, no. Sure, for some people that is all that is taking place, but there is so much more. One of the judges said, "it makes everything we worry about seem so insignificant" yes, yes it does, and what a beautiful gift Emmanuel gave to her, it was more than a performance or an audition. In a world that is so focused on selfishness, on "making it" we need to be reminded about what really matters in life, to see those that can rise above their limitations and make their extraordinary lives a living example of what living life should be.
    I also love the fact that he was adopted :)

    1. Very well said, Ellen. And I'm glad you got to see this! Just think of the heights Nina could reach!


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