About Susan Boyle

Biography

Personal life

Boyle was born 1 April, 1961 in Blackburn, West Lothian, Scotland, to Patrick Boyle, a storeman at the British Leyland factory in Bathgate, and Bridget, a shorthand typist, who were both Irish immigrants. 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; she was diagnosed as having learning difficulties. 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,[9] and took part in government training schemes.[17] She visited the theatre from time to time to listen to professional singers,[17] and performed at a number of local venues.[4] Yet Boyle remained active as a volunteer with the Roman Catholic church of Our Lady of Lourdes in Blackburn.[21]

Boyle still lives in the family home, a four-bedroom council house, with her ten-year-old cat, Pebbles.[8] Her father died in the 1990s, and her siblings had left home. As she never married, Boyle was devoted to looking after her ageing mother until she died in 2007 at the age of 91.[19] She said during an interview just before she sang on the talent show that she had “never been kissed” but later said “It was just banter and it has been blown way out of proportion.”[16][22] Boyle’s devotion to her mother meant that she did not have any time for herself.[19] 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”.[19]

Early singing

Boyle took singing lessons from voice coach Fred O’Neil.[8] She attended Edinburgh Acting School, and took part in the Edinburgh Fringe.[4] Early footage exists of a 25 year-old Boyle at her parents’ golden wedding party, where she sang “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” from Jesus Christ Superstar.[23] In 1995, she sang the same song in an audition for Michael Barrymore’s My Kind of People[4] at the Olympia Shopping Centre in Glasgow. She said she was too nervous to make a good impression,[17] but her brother Gerald believes they rejected her due to her image.[10] An amateur video shows Barrymore was apparently more interested in mocking her.[24]

In 1999 she recorded “Cry Me a River” for a charity CD funded by the local council to commemorate the Millennium[16][25] and produced at a school in Whitburn, West Lothian. Only 1,000 copies of the CD, entitled Music for a Millennium Celebration, Sounds of West Lothian, were pressed.[26] In what is the first known review of Boyle’s singing ability, the West Lothian Herald & Post said that 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…”[27][28] This recording was released onto the web in the week after 11 April 2009, and gained immediate acclaim: the New York Post writing that this showed that Boyle was not a “one trick pony” and predicted the original compilation would be a valuable collector’s item.[29] Hello! stated that the recording “cement[ed] her status” as a singing star.[30]

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; Boyle gave away a few copies to her close friends. The demo tape consisted of her versions of “Cry Me a River” and “Killing Me Softly with His Song” and was released onto the Internet after her audition.[31]

Boyle won several local singing competitions, and her mother 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.[6] Former coach 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 persuaded her to go to the audition despite her telling him “…she was too old and that it was a young person’s game”.[32] Boyle said that it was her mother’s death which motivated her to go on Britain’s Got Talent and seek a musical career to pay tribute to her mother.[8] Her performance on the show was the first time she had sung in public since then.[33][34]

Media impact

Television performance

In August 2008, Boyle applied for an audition for Britain’s Got Talent, and was accepted after a preliminary audition. 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 was watched by over 10 million viewers when it aired on 11 April 2009.[35] This performance was widely reported, and tens of millions of people viewed a video of her singing on YouTube.[35] Boyle was “absolutely gobsmacked” by the strength of this reaction.[36]

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:“ I know what they were thinking, but why should it matter as long as I can sing? It’s not a beauty contest. ”

Susan Boyle, The Sunday Times[8]

When Boyle first appeared on Britain’s Got Talent, she said that she aspired to become a musical theatre singer “as successful as” Elaine Paige.[37] Since the appearance, Paige has expressed interest in singing a duet with Boyle,[37] and has called her “a role model for everyone who has a dream”.[38] Cameron Mackintosh, the producer of the Les Misérables musical, also praised the performance, as “heart-touching, thrilling and uplifting”.[35]

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 Series one winner, the opera singer Paul Potts.[39] In the U.S., several commentators also drew parallels between Boyle’s performance and that of Paul Potts, an unexpected Britain’s Got Talent success story; Forbes magazine predicted Boyle could follow in Potts’ footsteps and enjoy a successful and profitable career.[40] ABC News hailed “Britain’s newest pop sensation”, and its Entertainment section headlined Boyle as “The Woman Who Shut Up Simon Cowell.”[3]

International news outlets also carried stories on her, including among others, The Times of India,[41] Germany’s Der Spiegel,[42] China’s Xinhua News Agency,[43] Brazil’s Zero Hora,[44] Israel’s Ynet,[45] and the Arabic-language Al Arabiya.[46]

TV shows

Within the week following her performance on Britain’s Got Talent, Boyle was a guest on STV’s The Five Thirty Show.[47] She was interviewed via satellite on CBS’s Early Show,[25] ABC’s Good Morning America,[48] and NBC’s Today, and via a telephone interview on FOX’s America’s Newsroom.[49] Simon Cowell revealed that Boyle had received an invitation to appear on The Oprah Winfrey Show.[48]

Boyle also appeared via satellite on CNN’s Larry King Live during which fellow guest Piers Morgan apologised to her for not giving her “anything like the respect” she deserved when she walked out on the BGT stage.[50] Boyle performed an a cappella verse of “My Heart Will Go On” on King’s show which stunned Morgan.[51]

Social media

Websites such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have been critical in facilitating Boyle’s rapid rise to fame:[4] The most popular YouTube video submission of her audition garnered nearly 2.5 million views in the first 72 hours.[52] On the day following the performance, the YouTube video was the most popular article on Digg.[53] The same video was judged so popular on Reddit that it was put on the site’s main page.[54] 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.[12] A total of 103 million video views on 20 different websites was reached within nine days.[13] As of 27 April, the number exceeds 170 million and is increasing by about 8 million daily.[14] 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”.[55]

On 28 April 2009, it was reported that abusive posts and threatening messages have been sent to a Scottish teenage girl who appeared in the audience of Boyle’s Britain’s Got Talent performance, as the YouTube clip shows the girl – nicknamed the “1:24 girl”, due to the time at which she appears in the clip – rolling her eyes at her.[56] Boyle herself has said that the girl “had the same reaction as the judges and everyone else in the theatre, she does not deserve this treatment”.[57]

Social analysis“ 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[6]

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.[58] 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.[59] 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.[60]

A judge of the contest, actress Amanda Holden remarked after Boyle’s performance that everybody had been very cynical, but had received “the biggest wake-up call ever” on hearing her sing.[61] Echoing Holden’s comments, The Washington Post’s Jeanne McManus said that one of the main sources of drama in talent shows was the collision between performers’ sometimes exaggerated sense of self-worth and the opinions and reactions of their audience.[62] 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”.[62] 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.[63] 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.[63]

On the other hand, although this audience reaction was unscripted, it may have been anticipated. Mark Blankenship of the The Huffington Post noted that the producers of the show would have been aware of the potential of this story arc, by deliberately presenting Boyle in a manner that would enhance this initial reaction.[64] He does note, however, that “as fabricated as it is, her on-camera arc is undeniably moving”.[64] 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 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.[65]

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.[66] In a similar vein, Mary Elizabeth Williams wrote on Salon.com that Boyle’s sudden fame came from her ability to remind her audience that, like them, she was a normal, flawed and vulnerable person, familiar with disappointment and mockery, but who nevertheless has the determination to fight for her dream.[67] R.M. Campbell, music critic for The Gathering Note compared her to Ella Fitzgerald, in that “[… 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.”[68] 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.'”[69]

Several media sources have commented that Boyle’s success seemed to have particular resonance in the United States of America. A U.S. entertainment correspondent was quoted in The Scotsman comparing Boyle’s story to the American Dream, as representing talent overcoming adversity and poverty.[70] 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.[34] 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”.[71] 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.[55]

Cultural references

Boyle’s widespread Internet success and her appeal in reaching out to millions of people across the world, has meant that she has become a cultural icon in a relatively short time. For instance, 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 [72][73]. Boyle has also been portrayed humorously (in drag) by American comedian Jay Leno, who jokingly claimed that they were related through his mother’s Scottish heritage.[74]

The American cartoon show South Park made a reference to Susan Boyle in the episode “Fatbeard”, which aired on 22 April 2009. Boyle’s name was mentioned in Ike’s farewell letter to his parents, saying “…if one more person talked to me about that Susan Boyle performance of Les Misérables I was going to puke my balls out through my mouth.”