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Susan Boyle (born 1 April 1961) is a Scottish singer who came to international public attention on 11 April 2009, when she appeared as a contestant on Britain's Got Talent, singing "I Dreamed a Dream" from .

Global interest in Boyle was triggered by the contrast between her powerful voice and her plain appearance on stage. The juxtaposition of the audience's first impression of her with the standing ovation she received after her performance led to an international media and Internet response. Within nine days of the audition, videos of Boyle — from the show, various interviews, and her 1999 rendition of "Cry Me a River" — had been watched over 100 million times, an online record. Despite the sustained media interest, she later finished in second place in the final of the show, behind dance troupe Diversity.

Boyle's first album, I Dreamed a Dream, was released on 23 November 2009, and has become Amazon's best-selling album in pre-sales. Its first single is a cover of the Jagger/Richards song "Wild Horses." The album includes "You'll See," "I Dreamed a Dream," and "Cry Me a River."


Early life

Susan Boyle was born in Blackburn, West Lothianmarker, Scotland, to Patrick Boyle, a miner, World War II veteran and singer at the Bishop's Blaize, and Bridget, a shorthand typist, who were both immigrants from County Donegalmarker, Ireland. She was the youngest of four brothers and six sisters.

Born when her mother was 47, Boyle was briefly deprived of oxygen during the difficult birth and was later diagnosed as having learning difficulties. Boyle says she was bullied as a child and was nicknamed "Susie Simple" at school.

After leaving school with few qualifications, she was employed for the only time in her life as a trainee cook in the kitchen of West Lothian College for six months and took part in government training programs. She visited the theatre to listen to professional singers and performed at a number of local venues.

Early singing

Boyle took singing lessons from voice coach Fred O'Neil. She attended Edinburgh Acting School and took part in the Edinburgh Fringe. Prior to Britain's Got Talent, her main experience had come from singing in church and karaoke at pubs in her village. She had also auditioned several times for My Kind of People. She also has long participated in her parish church's pilgrimages to the Knock Shrinemarker, County Mayomarker, Ireland, and has sung there at the Marian basilica.

Her repertoire through the years has included songs such as "The Way We Were" and "I Don't Know How to Love Him." British tabloids claimed "exclusives" of video clips of some early performances. In 1995 her audition for Michael Barrymore's My Kind of People at the Olympia Shopping Centre in East Kilbridemarker was filmed. The amateur video shows Barrymore was apparently more interested in mocking her.

In 1999 she recorded a track for a charity CD to commemorate the Millennium produced at a West Lothian school. Only 1,000 copies of the CD, Music for a Millennium Celebration, Sounds of West Lothian, were pressed. An early review in the West Lothian Herald & Post said Boyle's rendition of "Cry Me a River" was "heartbreaking" and "had been on repeat in my CD player ever since I got this CD..." The recording found its way onto the internet following her first televised appearance and the New York Post said it showed that Boyle was "not a one trick pony." Hello! said the recording "cement[ed] her status" as a singing star.

In 1999, Boyle used all her savings to pay for a professional demo tape, copies of which she later sent to record companies, radio talent competitions, local and national TV. The demo tape consisted of her versions of "Cry Me a River" and "Killing Me Softly with His Song", and was uploaded to the Internet after her audition.

After Boyle won several local singing competitions, her mother urged her to enter Britain's Got Talent and take the risk of singing in front of an audience larger than her parish church. Former coach O'Neil said Boyle abandoned an audition for The X Factor because she believed people were being chosen for their looks, and that she almost abandoned her plan to enter Britain's Got Talent. O'Neil persuaded her to audition despite her believing "...she was too old and that it was a young person's game". Boyle said that her mother's death motivated her to go on Britain's Got Talent and seek a musical career to pay tribute to her mother. Her performance on the show was the first time she had sung in public since then.

Personal life

Boyle still lives in the family home, a four-bedroom council house, with her 10-year-old cat, Pebbles.

Her father died in the 1990s, and her siblings had left home. Boyle never married, and she cared for her ageing mother until she died in 2007 at the age of 91, which meant that she never had any time for herself. A neighbour reported that when Bridget Boyle died, her daughter "wouldn't come out for three or four days or answer the door or phone."

Boyle remains active as a volunteer at Our Lady of Lourdes church in Blackburnmarker, visiting elderly members of the congregation in their homes.

Britain's Got Talent

In August 2008, Boyle applied for an audition for the third series of Britain's Got Talent and was accepted after a preliminary audition in Glasgowmarker. When Boyle first appeared on Britain's Got Talent at the city's Clyde Auditoriummarker, she said that she aspired to become a musical theatre singer "as successful as" Elaine Paige. Boyle sang "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Misérables in the first round of the third series of Britain's Got Talent, which was watched by over 10 million viewers when it aired on 11 April 2009. Amanda Holden remarked upon the audience's initially cynical attitude, and the subsequent "biggest wake-up call ever" upon hearing her performance.

This performance was widely reported and tens of millions of people viewed the video on YouTube. Boyle was "absolutely gobsmacked" by the strength of this reaction. Boyle is aware that the audience on Britain's Got Talent was initially hostile to her because of her appearance, but she has refused to change her image. Since the appearance, Paige has expressed interest in singing a duet with Boyle, and has called her "a role model for everyone who has a dream". Boyle's rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream" has been credited with causing a surge in ticket sales in the Vancouver production of Les Misérables. Cameron Mackintosh, the producer of the Les Misérables musical, also praised the performance, as thrilling and uplifting".

She was one of 40 acts that were put through to the semi-finals. She appeared last on the first semi-final on 24 May 2009, performing "Memory" from the musical Cats. In the public vote she was the act to receive the highest number of votes and go through to the final. She was the clear favourite to win the final, but ended up in second place to Diversity; the UK TV audience was a record of 17.3 million viewers.

Post Talent

Hospital stay and BGT tour

The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) became concerned by press reports about Boyle's erratic behaviour and speculation about her mental condition and wrote to remind editors about clause 3 (privacy) of their code of press conduct. The day after the final, Boyle was admitted to The Priory, a private psychiatric clinic in London, TalkbackThames explained "Following Saturday night's show, Susan is exhausted and emotionally drained." Her stay in hospital attracted widespread attention, with Prime Minister Gordon Brown wishing her well. Cowell has offered to waive Boyle's contractual obligation to take part in the BGT tour. Her family said "she's been battered non-stop for the last seven weeks and it has taken its toll [...but...] her dream is very much alive," as she had been invited to the Independence Day celebrations at the White Housemarker.

Boyle left the clinic five days after her admission and said she would participate in the BGT tour. However, she refused to show up for rehearsals and the Daily Telegraph reported that Boyle wanted to perform only a small number of the scheduled 23 UK tour venues to "conserve her voice for her debut album."

Album and U.S. concert tour

Boyle's first album, I Dreamed a Dream, was released on 23 November 2009. The album includes covers of "Wild Horses" (scheduled to be her first single) and "You'll See" as well as "I Dreamed a Dream", and "Cry Me a River". The album became's best-selling album in pre-sales, shortly after it became available. Boyle will give a U.S. concert tour in November as a lead-up to the album release.

Media impact

Web sites such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have been crucial in facilitating Boyle's rapid rise to fame: The most popular YouTube video submission of her audition garnered nearly 2.5 million views in the first 72 hours. On the day following the performance, the YouTube video was the most popular article on Digg. The same video was judged so popular on Reddit that it was put on the site's main page. Within a week, the audition performance had been viewed more than 66 million times, setting an online record, while on Wikipedia her biographical article attracted nearly half a million page views. A total of 103 million video views on 20 different Web sites was reached within nine days. The Los Angeles Times wrote that her popularity on YouTube may in part be due to the broad range of emotion packed into a short clip which was "perfect for the Internet".

Many newspapers around the world (including China, Brazil and the Middle East) carried articles on Boyle's performance. British tabloid The Sun gave her the nickname "Paula Potts" in reference to the first series' winner. In the U.S., several commentators also drew parallels between Boyle's performance and that of Paul Potts. ABC News hailed "Britain's newest pop sensation", and its Entertainment section headlined Boyle as "The Woman Who Shut Up Simon Cowell".

Within the week following her performance on Britain's Got Talent, Boyle was a guest on STV's The Five Thirty Show. She was interviewed via satellite on CBS's Early Show, Good Morning America, NBC's Today and on FOX's America's Newsroom. and The Oprah Winfrey Show. Via satellite on Larry King Live, Boyle performed an a cappella verse of "My Heart Will Go On". She was also portrayed in drag by Jay Leno, who joked that they were related through his mother's Scottish heritage.

Social analyses

Judging by appearance

The Huffington Post noted that the producers of the show would have anticipated the potential of this story arc, by deliberately presenting Boyle in a manner that would enhance this initial reaction. The Herald described Boyle's story as a modern parable and a rebuke to people's tendency to judge others based on their physical appearance. Similarly, Entertainment Weekly said that Boyle's performance was a victory for talent and artistry in a culture obsessed with physical attractiveness and presentation. The Washington Post believed that her initial demeanour and homely appearance caused the judges and audience to be "waiting for her to squawk like a duck". New York's Daily News said that an underdog being ridiculed or humiliated but then enjoying an unexpected triumph is a common trope in literature, and the stark contrast between the audience's low expectations and the quality of her singing that made Boyle's performance such an engaging piece of television.

'Feminist' view

R.M. Campbell, music critic for The Gathering Note compared her to Ella Fitzgerald, in that "[... it is] really, really hard to make a career if a woman isn't attractive." In another Huffington Post article, Letty Cottin Pogrebin wrote that although people may "weep for the years of wasted talent", Boyle's performance was a triumph for "women of a certain age" over a youth culture that often dismisses middle-aged women. Tanya Gold wrote in The Guardian that the difference between Boyle's hostile reception and the more neutral response to Paul Potts in his first audition reflected society's expectation that women be both good-looking and talented, with no such expectation existing for men. Los Angeles vocal coach Eric Vetro stated "She's an everywoman as opposed to an untouchable fantasy goddess, so maybe that's why people react to her."

Journalist Charlie Brooker said in the series finale of his BBC Four programme Newswipe: "our backwards, appearance-led culture and a nakedly manipulative set-up VT which made her out to be a comedy loser, Susan Boyle's performance soon became the number one talking point [...] because apparently it's a fucking miracle that women who aren't conventionally attractive are also capable of exhibiting any kind of skill whatsoever."

Modern freak show

Commentators have likened Britain's Got Talent as the modern equivalent of the Victorian freak show; a psychiatrist, Glen Wilson, said that the "deficiencies and shortcomings [of the contestants] are as important as their talent. We enjoy the stress we are putting these people under — will they or will they not survive?" Mark Borkowski said that the show has been a fantastic soap opera for the fame-makers (Simon Cowell and Talkback TV). Mary Beard, Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridgemarker, compared the Boyle phenomenon to the Hottentot Venusmarker, saying: "The arguments of Baartman’s managers were little different from the arguments of those in ITV who now seek to justify the display of Susan Boyle. This is an opportunity for wealth and fame, they say... the truth is that Susan Boyle is a vulnerable and exploited middle-aged woman. She is not a star in the making, being given a lucky break thanks to BGT."

'American Dream'

Several media sources have commented that Boyle's success seemed to have particular resonance in the United States. An American entertainment correspondent was quoted in The Scotsman comparing Boyle's story to the American Dream, as representing talent overcoming adversity and poverty. The Associated Press described this as Boyle's "hardscrabble story", dwelling on her modest lifestyle and what they characterized as urban deprivation in her home town. Similarly, The Independent's New York correspondent David Usborne wrote that the United States will always respond to "the fairy tale where the apparently unprepossessing suddenly becomes pretty, from Shrek to My Fair Lady".

Cultural references

The American cartoon show South Park made a reference to Susan Boyle in the episode "Fatbeard", which aired on 22 April 2009; the Late Night with Jimmy Fallon show aired a comedy sketch showing the "feel good" effect that Susan Boyle's performance has had on people; The Simpsons aired a new commercial for its 20th-anniversary show "Springfield's Got Talent", in which Homer Simpson talks about his dreams to be as successful as Boyle. A European trailer for the video game The Sims 3 includes a character mocked up as Boyle. In June 2009, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a short story called "I Dreamed a Dream" that was based on a combination of Boyle's appearances on Britain's Got Talent and the political difficulties of Gordon Brown. The 5 November 2009 episode of the show 30 Rock showed recurring character Kathy Geiss (Marceline Hugot) singing in the style of Susan Boyle as Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy teared up.


Studio albums

Year Album details Peak chart positions Certifications Sales









2009 I Dreamed a Dream
  • Debut studio album
  • Release date: 23 November 2009
  • Label: Syco, Columbia
1 1 1 1 1 2 68 43 5
  • UK: Platinum
  • AUS: Platinum
  • NZ: 3× Platinum
  • UK: 411,820+
  • AUS: 70,000+
  • NZ: 45,000+


Year Single Peak positions Album


2009 "Wild Horses" 6 12 I Dreamed a Dream
"I Dreamed a Dream" 27 20


  1. Scottish genealogist Caroline Gerard found her official birth entry at New Register House in Edinburgh Susan Boyle's Astrology Horoscope
  2. Boyle "just turned 48". "Suddenly Susan!", People, 4 May 2009, p. 52. As is common with magazines, the issue was published about 10 days before its cover date, implying that her birth date was sometime in April 1961.
  3. Susan Boyle's debut album at number one - three months before it's released, The Daily Mirror, 4 September 2009.
  4. Andy Pemberton, "Susan Boyle Sticks To Natural Look For New Album Cover," Posted 14 October 2009 on Musictoob, found at Yahoo Music. Accessed 15 October 2009.
  5. Simon Says: 'Boyle's Extraordinarily Good', Extra, 17 July 2009.
  7. Leigh Holmwood Susan Boyle: a dream come true The Guardian 18 April 2009.
  8. '30 Rock' recap: Do the Robot

External links

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