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Top TV Stories of 2009: Susan Boyle

by Nick Zaino, posted Dec 24th 2009 11:03AM
Susan Boyle on Britain's Got TalentSusan Boyle was a feel good story almost from the first minute she took the stage on Britain's Got Talent. She walked on as frumpy contestant 4321, which turned out to be just the countdown to the first nationally televised standing ovation of her career.

It was clear she had, as they say, spunk, then the judges asked her age and she rolled her hips and said, "I am 47. And that's just one side 'o me." It was clear she had ambition and a theatrical bent when Simon Cowell asked her whose success she'd like to mimic, and she named English theater star and singer Elaine Paige. And when she said she was going to sing "I Dreamed A Dream" from Les Miserables, it was clear to the audience that she was delusional. That is, until she opened up her mouth to sing.

Boyle didn't finish the first verse, barely finished the first line, before the judges raised their eyebrows in surprise and the audience started cheering and getting to their feet.

Her voice was clear and ringing, struggling to get over the crowd noise. She blew kisses as the music ended, and started to walk off before the judges could comment. She had to be directed back to the stage, where the judges called her performance "stunning" and gave her an enthusiastic pass to move on.

It was the kind of dramatic moment, a genuine instant sensation, that producers dream about and wake up sweaty. Newswires picked up the story, and YouTube was immediately buzzing with clips of that first performance, which would eventually become YouTube's most watched clip of 2009. She wound up losing to a street dance group called Diversity, which, taking nothing away from the champions, will surely become a trivia question about Boyle's career in years to come.

Now, Susan Boyle is the most unlikely hit of 2009. According to the L.A. Times, her debut album, I Dreamed A Dream, has sold 1.8 million copies, besting Eminem, Green Day, and even Hannah Montana. It was Amazon.com's top album for pre-sales, and sold at least 500,000 copies in each of its first three weeks, a record for a female single artist for SoundScan (though they only began tracking in 1991).

There are a few reasons this makes sense. First, Boyle has a terrific voice. That was apparent from that first appearance. Second, people love the underdog, and it was nice to see someone move forward on talent instead of some combination of generic good looks and a passable, pitch-correctable voice.

Plus, though it's noSusan Boyle surrounded by presst the standard formula for success, there is a formula here, combining Boyle's natural talent with a repertoire with Baby Boomer appeal ("Daydream Believer," "Wild Horses") and even a bit older ("Cry Me A River," "The End of the World") with a nod to the religious or spiritual ("Silent Night," "How Great Thou Art," "Amazing Grace"). Boyle is, after all, a church volunteer back home.

Boyle hit a bit of a speed bump when she was hospitalized shortly after Britain's Got Talent, and speculation bubbled up about her mental condition. She didn't have to wait long for success, and she didn't have to wait long for the negative aspects of fame, either. Her appearance made her a punchline and a target of parody, and the hospitalization just fueled the jokes. That put the "unlikely" part of her unlikely success in bold relief.

But no one is thinking of that now. Boyle didn't let the hospital stay keep her from the Britain's Got Talent tour, and she didn't seem to have a problem recording I Dreamed A Dream. Boyle is everywhere and she is outselling everyone. I just saw I Dreamed A Dream on the counter at a local drug store. And Boyle just appeared on her own TV special, on which she sang a duet with Elaine Paige. She's on the front page of every online music and media store.

Given Boyle's current status and popularity, there's no reason she shouldn't be a story in 2010, as well.

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I do NOT watch her show, but I do watch the news and I also enjoy entertainment news based shows and no matter how I try to avoid her image it just keeps popping up on my television.

There are some memes one just does NOT wish to participate in.


December 25 2009 at 2:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This is a very concise and accurate recap of an amazing eight months in the life of Susan Boyle. Her courage in the face of persistent name calling and naysaying is almost as incredible as her talent.
It is going to be an exciting 2010 for Susan and for her millions of fans.

December 25 2009 at 12:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Thank you for the very positive article about Susan Boyle.
She's really been put through the wringer this year, but persevered.
The tabloids will never change, nor will the children that believe it's cool to ridicule someone that never did anything to hurt anyone, someone that simply wanted to sing.
She's a strong and determined woman with an incredible talent, and I'm so happy that she was able to keep fighting and share her voice with us.
I wish her every happiness.

December 24 2009 at 5:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My how I wish that they would quit putting this extremely unattractive woman's face on my TV.

It is quite disconcerting.

December 24 2009 at 1:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to Arclight's comment

You guys should really coordinate your Festivus posts and your 'Top TV News Stories' posts. This is at least the second double-up on topic. Merry Christmas!

December 24 2009 at 11:59 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Joe's comment
Joel Keller

Ah, but we did coordinate on the Boyle thing. Nick linked to my post, as you see. And, I talked about the moment itself, and Nick talked about Susan's journey since then. I even allude to that at the end of my post.

December 24 2009 at 2:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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