Monday 18 December 2017

Aoife Finneran: Mary's X Factor journey to the final 12 is just the sort of Cinderella story we need

IT'S hard to watch Ballyfermot woman Mary Byrne without paraphrasing the lyrics from the famous song, "Oh Mary, why don't you have some sense? Please do something to restore your confidence."

This is a woman with the expectations of a nation weighing heavily upon her shoulders in The X Factor competition, only to suffer from a chronic case of nerves. Last Saturday night, we watched hopefully on our couches, hands clamped across our eyes in distress as she sang in front of Louis Walsh and Sharon Osbourne.


Yes, she forgot the words of her song. For another contestant, this may be the kiss of death for their dreams of stardom, but there's just something about Mary Byrne that makes us pray for success.

To put it bluntly, Mary's not your average X Factor contestant. She's 50, works at a check-out in Tesco and has seen her dreams of stardom confined to humming for appreciative customers. Nor does she possess the kind of doe-eyed, long-limbed look showcased by so many teen wannabes looking to become the next Cheryl Cole.

Yet this is precisely why Mary deserves to win this competition, because she's different. There aren't many 50-year-old checkout women with the guts to bring their talents to a TV audience.

Yet, by securing a place in the live finals, Mary is in some way living the dream for all of us.

Let's face it. We don't have all that much to cheer about in Ireland at the moment. We're depressed, disillusioned and downbeat at our future prospects in an economic abyss. But with her infectious grin and her Shirley Bassey-sized voice, one Dublin woman has proven that it's still okay to dream big.

She's not brimming with confidence, and she's human enough to forget the words. Despite this, she's still here, still fighting to fulfil her ambition in life. She's the Cinderella story of the year.

I'm not for the moment dismissing the efforts of our two other Irish entrants, Niall Horan from Mullingar and Rebecca Creighton from Tallaght, who are both in the live finals as part of group acts.


Both are talented young stars in their own right, and sure, we all want to see them progress. Yet, young hopefuls are ten-a-penny in this business and they've landed straight into a melting pot of singers who all conform to a certain accepted standard of being young, gorgeous and confident.

Mary Byrne, on the other hand, is Ireland's Everywoman. She's a single mother, middle-aged, working hard in an unremarkable job just to make ends meet.

In other words, she's hardly the most likely candidate to spend her evenings singing with a hairbrush in front of the bathroom mirror.

Then she appeared on X Factor and stirred a longing in all of us when she confessed that singing professionally is her greatest ambition.

We may not all want a life of stardom, but each of us harbour our own goals, however unrealistic.

Thanks to Mary, we've discovered that anything is possible.

That is, we're doomed to spend the next few Saturday nights cowering behind the couch, hardly daring to glance at the TV, hearts in our mouths as our very own Cinderella tries to remember all the words.

Rooting for Mary to win the final will be nerve-wracking stuff, but we wouldn't have it any other way.

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