Susan Boyle is one former Got Talent franchise contestant who solidified a place in all our hearts, whether you consider yourself a fan of the shows or not. The seemingly ordinary, middle-aged Scottish superstar confidently walked onto the audition stage of Britain’s Got Talent in 2009, belted out a beautiful rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Misérables, and has been moving international audiences to tears ever since.
But Boyle’s path to status and fame was not an easy one. Her struggles, achievements, and openness about her life after Britain’s Got Talent have consistently projected her into the public eye, exposing her to a mix of enthusiastic supporters and critics.
Have you ever wondered what Susan Boyle’s life looked like before she took to the stage? How has her career shaped into one of stardom and success, and what are Boyle’s plans for the future? This is the stunning transformation of Susan Boyle.
Susan Boyle found her footing as the youngest of nine
Susan Boyle was born to parents Patrick, a war veteran, and Bridget, a typist, in Blackburn, Scotland in 1961, according to Hello! magazine. Boyle was the youngest of her nine siblings (via Daily Mail), her mother having given birth to her at the late age of 47. Due to a difficult birth, Boyle experienced a lack of oxygen as an infant, resulting in a condition described at the time as “mild brain damage.”
As a result, Susan grew up with some learning challenges and found herself to be the target of school bullies. Despite her learning difficulties and childhood hardships, she characterized herself as a “cheeky little girl” who fought very hard to carve out a space of her own among her siblings, as she told The Sunday Times.
“You had to fight your corner in a family the size of ours,” Boyle continued to the publication.
Susan Boyle started singing in her church as a kid
Susan Boyle’s family history may have made her destined to achieve a fruitful singing career. Not only was her father, Patrick, a singer, but her “good pair of lungs” — which were to blame for her very loud crying as a baby, as she used to joke with her mother (via The Sunday Times) — sealed the deal.
With her mother’s unwavering support, Boyle found her way to singing just before her teenage years, discovering her iconic chops by participating in school productions and performing with her church choir. “The teachers said I had a talent but I was too young to know,” Boyle told The Sunday Times in 2009. But for much of her early life — despite her raw talent — singing was merely an activity that she did for pleasure, not a skill that she saw as leading to a career.
Letting nerves get in the way, Susan Boyle didn't succeed in her first talent show audition
Almost 20 years prior to her viral Britain’s Got Talent audition, Susan Boyle attempted to pave her way as a singer by auditioning for My Kind of People, a talent show on British television station ITV. The show, hosted by English television presenter Michael Barrymore, could’ve very easily been Boyle’s ticket to fame.
With her mom’s unwavering support, Boyle auditioned for the show, but the songstress explained after the fact that she was “too nervous” to make it through. “I was shaking so much I could hardly sing,” Boyle told The Sunday Times, a stark contrast to the bold, confidently quirky singer the Britain’s Got Talent stage came to know. “I got through it but I never made it onto television. I just wasn’t ready,” she explained.
But the audition experience motivated Boyle to focus on improving her talent, prompting her to sign up for singing lessons with vocal coach Fred O’Neil, as noted by People.
Susan Boyle gave up singing for over two years after caring for her dying mother
Susan Boyle’s life shifted directions when she started caring for her mother, Bridget, in her older age, according to The Sunday Times. Despite her large family and many siblings, Boyle became her mother’s primary caretaker, as her father had passed away years before. But her responsibilities to her mom did not stop her from performing.
Boyle sang in church choirs and performed karaoke, and she and her mother even made it a habit of watching Britain’s Got Talent together, with Bridget always encouraging her daughter to audition. But when Bridget died at the age of 91 in 2007 (via Daily Mail), Boyle’s emotions took over, and she lost all interest in singing.
“I was left really upset because of the bereavement I had and decided to give up singing,” Boyle explained to The Sunday Times. It would be two years before she took to the stage once again.
Britain's Got Talent gave Susan Boyle her big break
When Susan Boyle confidently walked out onto the Britain’s Got Talent stage in a modest dress with her hair uncontrolled, the audience giggled in secondhand embarrassment. “What’s your name, darling?” judge Simon Cowell asked. “My name is Susan Boyle,” Boyle responded, adding with a cheeky hip roll, “I’m 47, and that’s just one side of me.”
No one expected what was to come next. Despite the subtle judgment and laughs, Boyle belted out a powerful rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream“ from Les Misérables and took the audience (and the world) by storm. Her audition video, soon uploaded to YouTube, went viral and reached millions of viewers.
“I saw people laughing and I knew they were laughing at me,” Boyle told The Sunday Times shortly after her audition. “But I thought, well, they’ll soon shut up when they hear me sing. And they did.” Boyle received a standing ovation and three yeses from the judges, and she quickly moved onto the next round of the competition. As of this writing, Boyle’s Britain’s Got Talent audition video has over 245 million views on YouTube.
Despite receiving lots of support, Susan Boyle placed second on Britain's Got Talent
Susan Boyle put on jaw-dropping performances as a contestant on Britain’s Got Talent, singing some of musical theater’s biggest hits like “Memory” from Cats, and she gave a revival performance of “I Dreamed a Dream“ in the finale. Up against street dance troupe Diversity, Boyle was the crowd favorite to take home the win. But in a shocking upset, the dance group placed first, making Boyle the Season 3 Britain’s Got Talent runner-up.
After the whirlwind of the competition, Boyle spent a short time as a patient at the Priory clinic, a private psychiatric facility, to address her exhaustion and mental health (via The Guardian). “Susan is exhausted, that’s all there is to it. It’s no surprise — she has gone from a small town in West Lothian to being famous around the world,” her brother John said shortly after the competition ended (via The Telegraph). But Boyle left the clinic after just five days and joined her fellow former competitors on the Britain’s Got Talent tour, which took her across the United Kingdom to perform.
Susan Boyle beat out Eminem and U2 with her 2009 debut album
Susan Boyle’s viral success reached wide audiences in both the United Kingdom and the United States, and the release of her 2009 debut album, I Dreamed a Dream, exceeded sales expectations. The album sold 701,000 copies during its release week in the United States alone, overshadowing its competitors which included albums from rapper Eminem and iconic music group U2. According to The New York Times, Boyle’s debut album had the most successful release week sales for a debut artist since Snoop Dogg’s 1993 album, Doggystyle.
“The reason that this record really did what it did was that people wanted to get it and own it, to feel like they’re a part of it,” Steve Barnett, the chairman of Columbia Records, said in an interview with The New York Times.
Despite initial concerns that her album would only be popular among an older demographic, I Dreamed a Dream became an instant success across different ages and genders. “It’s cross-generational,” Barnett said. “When you sell that number, you’re selling to everybody.”
Susan Boyle was named seventh most influential person in the world in 2010, overshadowing these big names
In the year following her viral audition and subsequent Britain’s Got Talent success, Susan Boyle added another accomplishment to her growing resume: seventh most influential person in the world, as reported by the Mirror. Overshadowing her former Britain’s Got Talent judge Simon Cowell by over 70 places in the top 100 influential figures, Boyle found herself among far-reaching artists like Lady Gaga, politicians like Iran’s Mir-Hossein Mousavi, and athletes like South Korean figure skater Kim Yu-Na. She even surpassed then-President Barack Obama, leading him in the Time list by 14 places.
When asked by the United Kingdom’s The Press and Journal about her success years later, Boyle explained that, even in the face of fame, she stayed grounded and humbled due to her close-knit team. “The critics thought I was going to be a flash in the pan, but with a great team around me and a brilliant record label, I am still going,” she said. “Even I sometimes have to pinch myself to believe it.”
Susan Boyle was nominated for best pop vocal album at the 53rd Grammy Awards
Not many stars can say that their debut album received a Grammy nomination for best pop vocal album, but Susan Boyle can. Having released her first album, I Dreamed a Dream, shortly after her run on Britain’s Got Talent, not only did Boyle blow everyone away with sales numbers, but she also swiped a Grammy nomination too, as noted by the Los Angeles Times. Boyle’s album — composed of show-stopping hits like “Wild Horses,” “Amazing Grace,” and “Cry Me a River” – found itself up against projects from music industry pros Lady Gaga, John Mayer, Katy Perry, and Justin Bieber.
After her nomination for the 53rd Grammy Awards was announced, Susan Boyle said that she was thrilled by the news. “Up against wonderful artists like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, I don’t expect to win for a moment,” she said (via The Sunday Times). “But how fantastic just to be recognized like this with a nomination on my first album.”
The award for best pop vocal album at the 53rd Grammy Awards ultimately went to Lady Gaga for her album The Fame Monster, but the loss didn’t stop Susan Boyle.
Susan Boyle revealed her Asperger's diagnosis to the world
Throughout her adult life, Susan Boyle was under the impression that some of her behavior was due to the reported “mild brain damage” she sustained at birth. But all that changed when she was diagnosed with Asperger’s, and she finally received answers that helped explain her “emotional outbursts” and “acute anxiety.”
“It was the wrong diagnosis when I was a kid,” she shared, as reported by The Scotsman in 2013. “I was told I had brain damage. 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 public commentary about her condition brought a renewed attention to Asperger’s in the United Kingdom, with Robert MacBean, campaigns and policy officer for the National Autistic Society Scotland, saying that her revelation had changed the conversation. “By revealing her diagnosis, Susan Boyle is helping to highlight that there are older people with autism in all our communities who need our support and care,” MacBean said.
Boyle maintained that her diagnosis didn’t change her, but gave her a far better understanding of herself.
Susan Boyle almost sold out her first live tour with advanced ticket orders alone
The United Kingdom met Susan Boyle on their television and computer screens, and crowds were given the chance to see the superstar perform live during the Britain’s Got Talent tour in 2009 (via Daily Mail). But up until 2013, Boyle had not gone on tour as the headlining act, and maybe she should have hit the road sooner. Boyle’s debut tour, a seven-show run across the United Kingdom, resulted in shattering ticket sales, with most venues almost selling out in pre-sales alone.
Within hours, about 98 percent of tickets had been snatched up by eager concert goers, according to The Scotsman. Tour organizers reported “just a handful” of tickets were available for Boyle’s concerts in Glasgow and Edinburgh and warned the remaining tickets would be sold in just a few hours.
A spokeswoman for Boyle told The Scotsman that the sensational singer, who had reached fame four years prior, was “really looking forward” to her first solo tour. “This tour is her way of thanking the Scottish public for their support since Britain’s Got Talent,” the spokeswoman said. “They have been unbelievable.”
Susan Boyle received an honorary doctorate from The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in 2015
By 2015, Susan Boyle had a gleaming list of achievements: a fast-selling debut album, two Grammy nominations, and millions of album sales, just to name a few. And soon enough, Boyle added one more accomplishment to her list: recipient of an honorary doctorate for distinction in music from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, as reported by BBC News.
The performing arts school awarded the former Britain’s Got Talent star with one of its coveted doctorates in a formal ceremony in June 2015. Fellow recipients of honorary degrees from the school have included singer Annie Lennox and actress Tilda Swinton.
“I’m absolutely on top of the world,” Boyle told BBC News shortly after the degree ceremony. “I’m very [humbled], very privileged.” Prior to her awarded degree, Boyle had become a familiar face among the Royal Conservatoire’s halls, as she was professionally associated with the school’s artistic director of musical theater Andrew Panton.
After finding success in the UK, Susan Boyle competed on America's Got Talent: The Champions
After her Britain’s Got Talent days, Susan Boyle continued to perform and released several studio albums, reaching new heights as a global sensation. But 2018 brought an air of redemption to her talent show ambitions, and Boyle was confirmed to return to the stage once again on America’s Got Talent: The Champions, a United States-based competition for the global entertainment franchise’s most successful acts. Even though she was up against Got Talent winners, fan favorites, and talents alike, Boyle came to The Champions with a newfound sense of confidence.
“In 2009, I had everything to prove, I really wanted to have a singing career, so the pressure I put on myself to try and realize that dream was immense,” Boyle told Forbes. “This time round, I’ve had a wonderful career, traveled the world performing and so this I did for fun and as a personal challenge. It’s healthy to challenge yourself and I do love a competition.”
After getting the Golden Buzzer, Susan Boyle was sent to the America's Got Talent finals
Susan Boyle walked onto the America’s Got Talent: The Champions stage to a standing ovation in January 2019, and had the audience and four judges on their feet before she had even performed. Her rendition of “Wild Horses“ earned her the Golden Buzzer from judge Mel B, which sent the fan favorite straight to the finals. Despite her charm and immaculate voice, Boyle did not make the cut and lost the competition to close-up magician Shin Lim.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed, but also deep down I didn’t think I would win,” Boyle told People shortly after her time on the show. “Secretly you hold out hope that you just might because that’s what drives you to do your best in a competition.”
Despite not being the last act standing, Boyle remained confident in her career. “Champions is only just the start of an exciting year ahead,” she told Forbes. “I’ll be doing more travel, more performances and there’s also talks of a US tour later this year. … Bring it on!”
Susan Boyle returned to the theater where her original Britain's Got Talent audition was held
Years after her viral audition, Susan Boyle has continued to capture the hearts of Scotland, England, and the world. She paid homage to the start of her successful singing career during the March leg of her 2020 tour, returning to the theater that started it all: the SEC Armadillo theater in Glasgow. That’s where she blew away judges and audience members during her Britain’s Got Talent audition in 2009, and it was a venue that she was “particularly looking forward” to performing in when speaking at a photo call, as reported by The Scotsman.
“This is where it all began, deja vu, full circle if you like,” Boyle continued. “I remember being backstage and sashaying on with an awful frock on, awful haircut and I don’t know how the heck I got through.” She noted she was “very excited to be back where it all happened [ten] years ago.”
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