The Astonishing Story Of Scottish Mezzo-Soprano Superstar Susan Boyle

The story of Susan Boyle is an early 21st-century morality tale. Appropriately, much of it played out on reality-television game shows, social media, the pages of tabloid newspapers, and television specials. Many Music Man readers in the US and UK know the story. Nonetheless, like all fables, it is worth revisiting with hindsight. For readers outside of the UK and US, and younger readers in general, the saga is likely to be less familiar.

At root, the story of Susan Boyle is a rags to riches story, mixed up with “don’t judge a book by its cover” and The Ugly Duckling. I include The Ugly Duckling, which is about a cygnet (baby swan) misidentified as a duckling, because Boyle’s life started with a difficult birth, followed by a diagnosis of brain damage. This misdiagnosis, this error of categorization, shaped Susan Boyle’s life prior to BGT 2009 and beyond. Let’s watch Boyle singing with her idol, Elaine Paige:

VH comments, “I will never forget Susan’s audition and how she just turned that crowd, she was amazing! And I’m so pleased to see her with the woman she idolized, what a coup for her.” Redwoods adds, “Susan’s singing reaches to the soul of the listener. That can’t be learned. She has a gift from God.” The notion that Boyle’s voice touches souls and hearts through her God-given gift recurs throughout the YouTube comments.

When Boyle appeared on BGT, she was an unemployed charity worker living with her cat, Pebbles, and in danger of losing the family home. Her father died in 1997 at 83, leaving Boyle to care for her mother, who died at 91 in 2007. Caring for an elderly, frail parent is a 24-hour job, which partially accounts for what the Guardian described as “the unruly hair, bushy eyebrows and spinster image that for so long attracted cruel teasing, especially from young children.” Here’s another video (2019):

That was, of course, Susan Boyle singing Unchained Melody, as popularized by the Righteous Brothers. The video is from 2011. Going back to Boyle’s BGT 2009 run, she quickly became the favorite to win. This was a turnaround. When 48-year-old Susan Boyle stepped on stage for her audition, she was greeted by conspicuous skepticism. Speaking to CNN after her audition went mega-viral just days after being posted (before the first round of the show), Boyle said that “she noticed the initial sniggers” but she didn’t let them get to her. “I just thought mentally, I’ll show them, so I did. If people are cynical, you try and win them ’round, and it worked. It must have been a miracle, but it worked.”

When questioned by Simon Cowell during her audition on how successful she would like to be, Boyle answered, “Elaine Paige… somebody like that?” Hence the duet with Paige that appeared in our first video, taken from the late 2009 TV special I Dreamed a Dream: The Susan Boyle Story. I Dreamed a Dream is also the title of Boyle’s debut album (November 2009) – the UK’s best-selling debut album of all time and the record holder for first-week sales by a debut album. After the release of The Gift (2010), Susan Boyle became “the third act ever to top both the UK and US album charts twice in the same year.”

Boyle has continued to release music and make headlines. In 2013, it was revealed that Susan Boyle had a high IQ but was on the autism spectrum, without having been diagnosed. Boyle said, “I was told I had brain damage. It was the wrong diagnosis when I was a kid. I always knew it was an unfair label. Now I have a clearer understanding of what’s wrong and I feel relieved and a bit more relaxed about myself.” Boyle’s choice to stay in her modest family home is another recurring topic in the media. More recently, in June 2023, on a guest appearance on BGT 2023, Susan Boyle revealed that she had overcome an April 2022 stroke to appear on the show. This resilience mirrors an episode from the beginning of her career.

The day after the BGT 2009 final (and after The Press Complaints Commission wrote to remind newspaper editors about the privacy clause of their code of conduct in relation to reporting on Boyle), “Boyle was admitted to The Priory, a private psychiatric clinic in London. Talkback Thames explained, ‘Following Saturday night’s show, Susan is exhausted and emotionally drained.’ Boyle left the clinic three days after her admission and said she would participate in the BGT tour (from which she had been excused).

Despite health concerns, she appeared in 20 of the 24 dates of the tour,”

So did Susan Boyle win BGT 2009? In an unpopular decision, which Susan Boyle graciously accepted, the dance troupe Diversity won the season, leaving Boyle second. As Tom Petty sang, “Even the losers get lucky sometimes” and, despite losing out in the final, it was Boyle who went on to greater success. Of course it wasn’t only luck that allowed Boyle to break out of her circumstances. She has a great talent – a powerful melliferous voice that benefits from being relatively untutored, allowing her background, personality, and accent to seep through. Even so there was a lot of luck involved, or, perhaps, there was an angel on her shoulder.

In Boyle’s words, as reported by The Guardian, “I lived with Mum and cared for her until she died at the age of 91 in 2007. I felt a part of me had died with her and I was also in danger of losing our family home because I wasn’t working. I was totally lost, but then I remembered how she always told me to follow what makes me happy. I so wanted to make her proud, so I found the strength to apply for BGT and I truly believe that she was the angel on my shoulder that day”.

If you would like to see more from Susan Boyle, you can subscribe to her YouTube channel or follow her on Facebook. You can also visit her official website for more information.

Please be aware of people impersonating The Music Man. Click here to see our brands so you know who to trust.