Before she sang, both the audience and the judges appeared to express scepticism based on her unpolished appearance. In contrast, her vocal performance was so well received that she has been dubbed "The Woman Who Shut Up Simon Cowell." She received a standing ovation from the live audience, garnering yes-votes from Cowell and Amanda Holden, and the "biggest yes I have ever given anybody" from Piers Morgan. The audition was recorded in January 2009 at the Clyde Auditorium in Glasgow, Scotland, and was first broadcast on Saturday, 11 April 2009 in Britain.
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 the numbers who watched videos of her audition set an online record.By 20 April 2009, a mere 9 days after her televised debut, viral videos of her audition, subsequent interviews of her, and her 1999 rendition of "Cry Me a River" had been viewed over 100 million times on the Internet.Cowell is reported to be setting up a contract with Boyle with his Syco Music company label, a subsidiary of Sony Music.
Boyle was born in Blackburn, West Lothian, Scotland to Patrick Boyle, a storeman at the British Leyland factory in Bathgate, and Bridget Boyle, a shorthand typist; her parents were Irish immigrants. The youngest in a family of four brothers and six sisters, of whom only six survive, Boyle was born when her mother was 47. The Sunday Times writes that it was a difficult birth, during which Boyle was briefly deprived of oxygen. She was diagnosed as having learning difficulties, which led to bullying. She was labelled "Susie Simple" at school but learned to overcome those who derided her.
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 schemes. She would visit the theatre from time to time to listen to professional singers, and performed at a number of local venues. She took singing lessons from a voice coach, Fred O'Neil. In 1995, she auditioned for Michael Barrymore's My Kind of People, which was looking for contestants at the Braehead Shopping Centre in Glasgow, but she said she was too nervous to make a good impression.The Guardian reports that she attended Edinburgh Acting School, and has taken part in the Edinburgh Fringe. In 1999 she recorded "Cry Me a River" for a charity CD funded by the local council to commemorate the Millennium. O'Neil has 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 told The Scotsman: "I remember a phone call late last year when she said she was too old and that it was a young person's game". O'Neil persuaded her to go to the audition
Boyle's father died in the 1990s, and her siblings had left home, leaving Boyle to look after her ageing mother, who died in 2007 at the age of 91. Boyle still lives in the family home, a four-bedroom council house, with her ten-year-old cat, Pebbles. Boyle's devotion to caring for her mother was such that she did not have any time for herself. One neighbour reported that Boyle struggled to cope with the loss of her mother, stating that she "wouldn't come out for three or four days or answer the door or phone".Her mother had always encouraged her to enter local singing competitions, which she won several times, and tried to persuade her daughter to enter Britain's Got Talent, urging her to take the risk of singing in front of an audience larger than her parish church. Boyle has said she did not feel ready to do it until after her mother's death, saying that it was that event which propelled her to go on Britain's Got Talent and seek a musical career as her way of paying a tribute to her mother. Her performance on the show was the first time she had sung since then.
At the time of her Britain's Got Talent audition, Boyle was unemployed, yet active as a volunteer with the Roman Catholic church of Our Lady of Lourdes in Blackburn. She has never married; and during an interview just before she sang on the talent show, she said she had also "never been kissed" but later added, "Oh, I was just joking around. It was just banter and it has been blown way out of proportion."
Early recordings Edit
The earliest known footage of Boyle's talents comes from her parents' golden wedding party, where she sang "I Don't Know How to Love Him" from the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, aged 25.
Boyle recorded a version of "Cry Me a River" for a compilation charity CD entitled "Music for a Millennium Celebration, Sounds of West Lothian", which was produced in 1999 at a school in Whitburn, West Lothian. A reviewer for the West Lothian Herald & Post wrote at the time, "... the true show-stopper for me is Susan Boyle's heartbreaking rendition of "Cry Me a River", which has been on repeat in my CD player ever since I got this CD..." This recording was released onto the web in the week after April 11, 2009, and gained immediate acclaim, with the New York Post writing that this showed that Boyle was not a "one trick pony" and that the rarity of the CD imprint, with only 1,000 produced, would make them valuable collector's items. Other media reaction was similarly positive, with Hello! magazine stating that the recording was a further illustration of the level of Boyle's talent, which "cements her status" as a singing star.
In 1999, Boyle used "all her savings" to pay for a professionally cut demo tape, which she later sent to record companies, radio talent competitions, local and national TV and which has now been released on the Internet. It consisted of "Cry Me a River" and her version of "Killing Me Softly". Boyle gave away a few copies to her close friends.
Britain's Got Talent and aftermath Edit
Television performance Edit
In August 2008, when Boyle became aware that Britain's Got Talent would be holding auditions, she applied and was accepted for the audition, which took place in Glasgow in January 2009. 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, which aired on April 11 and was watched by an average of 10.3 million viewers. This performance was widely reported, and millions of people viewed a video of her singing on YouTube.The strength of this reaction reportedly shocked and amazed Boyle, who later said she was "gobsmacked".
Boyle is well 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.
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 Series one winner, the opera singer Paul Potts.
International news outlets also carried stories on her, including among others, The Times of India, Germany's Der Spiegel, China's Xinhua News Agency, Brazil's Zero Hora, Israel's Ynet, and the Arabic-language Al Arabiya.
In the U.S., ABC News coverage suggested that Boyle may be "Britain's newest pop sensation", and the network's Entertainment section ran the headline The Woman Who Shut Up Simon Cowell. Several commentators have drawn parallels between Boyle's performance and that of Paul Potts, another unexpected singing talent who also rose to fame on Britain's Got Talent, with Forbes magazine predicting that Boyle could follow in Potts' footsteps and enjoy a long, successful and profitable career.
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, ABC's Good Morning America, and NBC's Today, and via a telephone interview on FOX's America's Newsroom. 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".
She also appeared via satellite on CNN's Larry King Live opposite Piers Morgan, who apologized to Boyle for not giving her "anything like the respect" she deserved when she walked out on the stage before singing. Boyle went on to perform an a cappella verse of "My Heart Will Go On" on King's show about which Morgan remarked, "That was just absolutely stunning. To sing that with no musical backing is unbelievable." He previously invited Boyle to have dinner with him in London, and she accepted.
Writing in The Guardian, Leigh Holmwood said that web technology such as YouTube and social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter have been critical 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 also popular on Reddit, with enough clout to top the site's front 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. 100 million video views on 20 different websites 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 timeframe, noting that this makes it "perfect for the Internet, where short clips rule."
Susan Boyle's fame also spread by links posted on the Twitter website, including praise from celebrity couple Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore. When Boyle first appeared on Britain's Got Talent, she said that she aspires to become a musical theatre singer "as successful as" Elaine Paige. Since the appearance, Paige has expressed an interest in singing a duet with Boyle,and has called her "a role model for everyone who has a dream". Hugh Jackman has also wanted to do a duet with Susan Boyle writing on his Twitter, "Where is Susan Boyle? I am ready for a duet."
Social and critical analysis Edit
Social analysis Edit
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. For instance, writing in 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. Similarly, Lisa Schwarzbaum, in an article in Entertainment Weekly, said 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. Echoing Amanda Holden's comments, 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". Indeed, New York's Daily News said 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.
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". 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.
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. In a similar vein, Mary Elizabeth Williams wrote on Salon.com 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.
Several media sources have commented that Boyle's success seemed to have particular resonance in the United States of America. 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. 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. 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". Piers Morgan, one of the show's judges, also commented on the unusual power this story seemed to have in the US, noting that "Americans can be very moved by this sort of thing", and likening Boyle's rise to fame from poverty and obscurity to that of the fictional boxer Rocky Balboa.
Professional evaluations Edit
MSNBC interviewed several professional singers, critics and vocal coaches regarding Boyle. Seattle-based music critic for Northwest classical-music site The Gathering Note stated "There's no shortage of first-class voices out there, but Boyle has a unique story: she's unattractive." R.M. Campbell continued: "She's a bit like Ella Fitzgerald. [...] It's really, really hard to make a career if a woman isn't attractive. The very fact that she is ordinary could help in improving her future success." 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. They say, 'She's one of us, but look how talented she is. We want to support her'." Vetro went on to say that he thought Boyle should audition for Broadway or West End shows, "where she could really shine."
London vocal coach Tona de Brett said of Boyle, "Her breathing sounds good, her tuning is perfect, and she puts in real emotion without being overdone, which is a tremendously good thing, because so often in the pop business, the emotions are superimposed," and continued that Boyle had a knock-out, real natural gift. Joan Lader, a vocal therapist and teacher from New York, has worked with singers Madonna and Patti LuPone. Lader described Boyle's voice as: "very free, unaffected and pure, with lots of clarity and range." Singer and actress Rachel York said of Boyle's singing: "Her pitch was right on, her quality was clear and she had volume when she belted." Referring to Boyle's "Cry Me a River" YouTube clip, York said "she has a really nice sultry sound".
Allen Henderson, the director of the National Association of Teachers of Singing, said that Boyle's voice was "good". Henderson went on to say, "As a professional, her performance didn't blow me away, but I thought it was very good. She handled the piece very well." He did not suggest any pointers because he preferred to hear more material under less strenuous circumstances before commenting further.