There were many adjectives used to describe Susan Boyle’s looks when she first appeared on Britain’s Got Talent earlier this year—homely was perhaps the kindest. The self-described “never been kissed” spinster, who lived alone in a Scottish village with her cat, was an unlikely contestant on a reality TV show that puts a premium on pretty. But the shy, 48-year-old church singer defied expectations with her powerful rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables and became an instant feel-good story.
Although she came in second in the contest, Susan swept the online popularity polls, becoming an internet sensation on YouTube—over 300 million hits—in a triumph of talent over beauty. Critics have claimed that the TV show’s producers must have anticipated the bonanza. Even Susan herself acknowledges the shock factor. “A woman who went on with mad hair, bushy eyebrows and the frock I was wearing had to be noticed,” she says. “Come on!”
But Susan’s story is all about dreams. She was diagnosed with learning disabilities and bullied as a child, but persevered with her faith. No wonder, then, that her much anticipated debut album—already the most pre-ordered recording of all time—is called I Dreamed a Dream and features both the inspirational Les Miz hit and a country ballad version of the Monkees’ “Daydream Believer.” Mixing hymns with pop covers like the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses,” Susan continues to defy expectations with her stunning voice, an instrument of rare fragility and true beauty.November 2009