Susan Boyle

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Susan Boyle (b. 1961) is a Scottish church volunteer and amateur singer who came to public attention when she appeared as a contestant on the third series of Britain's Got Talent.[1] Boyle leapt to almost immediate global fame when she sang "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Misérables in the competition's first round.[2]

Before she sang, both the audience and the judges had expressed scepticism based on her age and what was seen as a somewhat plain, unprofessional appearance. In contrast, her vocal performance was so well received that she has been dubbed "The Woman Who Shut Up Simon Cowell".[3] She received a standing ovation from the live audience, attracting yes-votes from Cowell and Amanda Holden, and the "biggest yes I have ever given anybody" from Piers Morgan. The original talent show and audition was recorded in Scotland in January 2009. [4]

The juxtaposition of the reception to her voice with the audience's first impression of her triggered global interest. Articles about her appeared in newspapers all over the world, while millions watched a YouTube video of her performance in the first few days. Cowell is reported to be setting up a contract with Boyle with his Syco Music company label, a subsidiary of Sony Music.[5]

Personal life

Boyle is the youngest of nine children and lives in Blackburn with her ten-year-old cat, Pebbles.[6] Boyle suffered oxygen deprivation during birth, resulting in learning disabilities.[7] Her classmates teased her because of this and her appearance.[7] Oxygen deprivation is a rare complication of childbirth, but is associated with both developmental delays and an increased risk of cerebral palsy.[8][9]

Early on she received some professional voice training in Livingston, Scotland.[10] Boyle recorded a version of "Cry Me a River" for a charity CD in 1999.[11] She stopped her pursuit of singing to look after her sick mother, who died in 2007 at the age of 91. Her performance in the regional finals of Britain’s Got Talent was the first time Boyle had sung after her mother's death.[12] Boyle stated in The Washington Post that she entered the contest at the behest of her late mother, who urged her to "take the risk" of singing in front of an audience larger than her parish church.[2] She is unmarried and presently unemployed.[13] She aspires to become a musical theatre singer in the vein of Elaine Paige.[14]

Performance and reaction

Boyle performed a rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Misérables in the first round of the third series of Britain's Got Talent, on 11 April 2009. This performance was widely-reported and a video of her singing was viewed by tens of millions of people on the website YouTube. Boyle was reportedly shocked and amazed by the strength of this reaction.[15]

News media

Many British newspapers carried articles on Boyle's performance and subsequent Internet coverage. The Sun writer Colin Robertson gave her the nickname "Paula Potts" in reference to the contest's previous opera-singing winner Paul Potts.[16] In an interview with the Daily Mirror, Boyle confirmed she had a meeting with the Sony BMG record company but said "I can't say much about it. It's early days and I'm taking baby steps."[7]

Many international news outlets also carried stories on her including the New York Daily News[17], Australia's Herald Sun,[18] Canada's Maclean's,[19] Germany's Der Spiegel,[20] China's Xinhua News Agency,[21] Macau's The Macau Post Daily, Portugal's Correio da Manhã [22] and Korea's The Chosun Ilbo.[23] In the U.S., ABC News coverage suggested that Boyle may be "...Britain's newest pop sensation...", and the Entertainment section ran the headline The Woman Who Shut Up Simon Cowell.[24] Several commentators have drawn parallels between Boyle's performance and that of Paul Potts, another unexpected singing talent discovered by British reality television, with Forbes magazine predicting that Boyle could follow in Potts' footsteps and enjoy a long, successful and profitable career.[25]

TV shows

Following her performance on Britain's Got Talent, Boyle was a guest on STV's The Five Thirty Show.[26] She was interviewed via satellite on CBS's Early Show[27] and ABC's Good Morning America,[28] and via a telephone interview on FOX's America's Newsroom.[29] In an interview, Simon Cowell said Boyle had received an invitation to appear on The Oprah Winfrey Show and predicted that if she did appear "there's every chance Susan Boyle will have the number one album in America".[28]

Social media

The most popular YouTube video submission of her audition garnered nearly 2.5 million views in the first 72 hours.[30] As of April 17, 2009, the video had been viewed more than 20 million times, making it the most viewed video of the month worldwide.[31] On the day following the performance, the YouTube video was the most popular article on Digg.[32] The same video was also popular on Reddit, with enough clout to top this site's front page.[33] The Los Angeles Times wrote that the popularity of this video may in part be due to the broad range of emotion packed into a short timeframe, noting that this makes it "perfect for the Internet, where short clips rule."[34]

Susan Boyle's fame also spread by links posted on the Twitter website, including praise from celebrity couple Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore.[35][36] When told about this Boyle was said not to have heard of Kutcher and although recognised the name 'Demi Moore' knew little about her but thanked them for their support.[37].


Boyle's sudden fame has drawn much commentary on why this story was so widely reported and what it implies, while others drew moral lessons from people's reactions to her performance.[38] For instance, writing in Scotland's The Herald, Collette Douglas-Home described Boyle's story as a modern parable and a rebuke to people's tendency to judge others based on their physical appearance.[39] Similarly, Lisa Schwarzbaum, in an article in Entertainment Weekly, stated that Boyle's performance was particularly moving as it was a victory for talent and artistry in a culture obsessed with physical attractiveness and presentation.[40] Commenting on the audience's reactions before she started singing, Boyle stated:

Modern society is too quick to judge people on their appearances. ... There is not much you can do about it; it is the way they think; it is the way they are. But maybe this could teach them a lesson, or set an example.

—Susan Boyle, The Washington Post[2]

After Boyle's performance, Holden stated:

I am so thrilled because I know that everybody was against you. I honestly think that we were all being very cynical and I think that's the biggest wakeup call ever. And I just want to say that it was a complete privilege listening to that.

Amanda Holden, Britain's Got Talent[14]

Echoing these comments by Holden, Jeanne McManus wrote in The Washington Post that, in talent shows such as Britain's Got Talent, one of the main sources of drama is the collision between performers' sometimes exaggerated sense of self-worth and the opinions and reactions of their audience. In Boyle's case, McManus believed that her initial demeanour and homely appearance caused the judges and audience to be "waiting for her to squawk like a duck".[41] Indeed, New York's Daily News stated that it was this 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. This article also noted that the idea of an underdog being ridiculed or humiliated but then enjoying an unexpected triumph is a common trope in literature and that this is why, when this theme made its unscripted appearance in reality television, it created an enduring and powerful effect.[42]

On the other hand, although this audience reaction was unscripted, it may have been anticipated. Writing in The Huffington Post, Mark Blankenship noted that the producers of the show would have been aware of the potential of this story arc, stating that the programme seemed to deliberately present Boyle in a manner that would enhance this initial reaction. He does note, however, that "as fabricated as it is, her on-camera arc is undeniably moving."[43] The fact that Boyle is in her forties has also been cited as contributing to this strong emotional impact. In another Huffington Post article, Letty Cottin Pogrebin wrote that people may have been "weeping for the years of wasted talent", since most of Boyle's life has been spent in obscurity and those wasted years can never be recovered. All the same, Pogrebin still classed Boyle's performance as a triumph for what she called "women of a certain age", as she saw it as representing a victory over a youth culture that often dismisses middle-aged women.[44]

In a feminist analysis, a columnist in The Guardian pointed out what she perceived as a fundamental difference between Boyle's hostile reception and the more neutral response to Paul Potts in his first audition, which she saw as reflecting a societal expectation that women be both good-looking and talented, with no such expectations being made about men.[45] In a similar vein, a columnist on wrote that Boyle's performance reminded people that "not all fortysomething women are sleek, Botoxed beauties", going on to say that Boyle's sudden fame came from her ability to remind her audience that, like them, she is a normal, flawed and vulnerable person, familiar with disappointment and mockery, but who nevertheless has the determination to fight for her dream.[46]

Several British newspapers commented that Boyle's success seemed to have particular resonance in the United States. Writing in The Scotsman Craig Brown quoted a U.S. entertainment correspondent who compared Boyle's story to the American Dream, in that it represented talent overcoming adversity and poverty.[47] The Associated Press described this as Boyle's "hardscrabble story", dwelling on her modest lifestyle and what they saw as urban deprivation in her home town.[6] Similarly, The Independent New York correspondent David Usborne wrote that America is a country that will always respond to "the fairy tale where the apparently unprepossessing suddenly becomes pretty, from Shrek to My Fair Lady."[48] Piers Morgan, one of the show's judges, also commented on the unusual power this story seemed to have in the U.S., stating that "Americans can be very moved by this sort of thing." He likened Boyle's rise to fame from poverty and obscurity to that of the fictional boxer Rocky Balboa, who was the subject of a series of Hollywood films.[34]

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External links

  • Collected news and comment on Susan Boyle from The Guardian
  • Susan Boyle on YouTube 47 Year old Susan Boyle wows the judges with her performance in the auditions for Britains Got Talent, singing I dreamed a dream from Les Miserables. A Wonderful Song Sung by Susan Boyle... The Audience was laughing before starting the song... after the song the audience were silent, with smiles on their faces and judges gave her 3 Yes's!
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  10. ^ >Smith, Harry. She Dreamed A Dream (streaming). [Television]. CBS News. Retrieved on 2009-04-16.
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  14. ^ a b "Auditions 1." Britain's Got Talent. ITV. 2009-04-11. No. 1.
  15. ^ Scottish singer 'gobsmacked' by overnight stardom CNN 17 April 2009
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  25. ^ Vidya Ram Susan Boyle Could Make Millions 17 April 2009
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  27. ^ Smith, Harry. She Dreamed A Dream (streaming). [Television]. CBS News. Retrieved on 2009-04-16.
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  29. ^ Hemmer, Bill; Kelly, Megyn. Hitting Her High Note (streaming). [Television]. FOX News. Retrieved on 2009-04-16.
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  31. ^ <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>"Susan Boyle - Singer - Britains Got Talent 2009 (With Lyrics)". 2009-04-11. Retrieved 2009-04-14.
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  33. ^ <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>QueenZ (2009-04-12). "never judge a book by its cover-amazing singer Susan Boyle". Retrieved 2009-04-14.
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  38. ^ <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>Moran, Mark E (2009-04-15). "Making Sense of the Powerful Reaction to Susan Boyle". FindingDulcinea. Retrieved 2009-04-15.
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