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Photos: Susan Boyle wows the world

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  1. Holiday offering

    Scottish singer Susan Boyle attends a photocall to announce a charity single for Save the Children at Sony Music in London on Oct. 28, 2013. (Gareth Cattermole / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Sacred visit

    Boyle holds a banner with an image of the Virgin Mary as she poses for a photograph in a hotel during her pilgrimage to the city of Lourdes, France, on May 21, 2013. (AFP-Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Her 'Standing Ovation'

    Boyle attends an album signing at HMV in Glasgow, Scotland, on Nov. 20, 2012. Dozens of fans lined up to get signed copies of her new album titled "Standing Ovation." (Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Great pride

    Boyle attends the Pride of Britain awards at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London on Oct. 29, 2012. (Tim Whitby / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Poppy appeal

    Boyle and the Scottish Military Wives choir launch the Poppy Scotland appeal in Glasgow on Oct. 24, 2012. Boyle and the choir called for help to raise vital funds for Scotland's Armed Forces community during the campaign. (Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Her dream

    Boyle performs during her musical "I Dreamed A Dream" at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle, England, on March 27, 2012. (Scott Heppell / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Hearing her now

    Boyle visits SiriusXM Studio on Nov. 1, 2011, to talk up her new album, "Someone to Watch Over Me." Though the title Gershwin tune is included, much of the other selections are takes on rock tunes. (Andy Kropa / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Lady in red

    Boyle spent time in "China's Got Talent" in July 2011, where she met Cai Hongping, a Shanghai market stall owner considered to be the Susan Boyle of China. Hongping's rendition of "Amazing Grace" on the Chinese version of YouTube garnered her 10 million hits within 10 days ... and landed her a slot on "Talent." (Chinafotopress / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Beside herself

    A wax figure of Boyle was revealed at Madame Tussauds in Blackpool, England in April 2011... and the original apparently approves. (Phil Noble / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Her 'Dream' job

    Boyle performs at a mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow, Scotland, on Sept. 16, 2010. In a pre-Mass statement, the Scottish-born Boyle said "it's a great honor to sing for the pope and it's something I've always dreamed of." (Phil Noble / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Knock 'em dead, Susan

    Boyle performed "I Dreamed a Dream" on the "Dancing With the Stars" results show on Nov. 10, 2009. Accompanying her performance were professional dancers Tony Dovolani and Chelsie Hightower.

    The 47-year-old singer became a worldwide phenomenon after her rendition of the Les Miserables song on the reality TV show "Britain's Got Talent." (Adam Larkey / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Celtic pride

    Boyle holds up a celtic scarf during the UEFA Europa League Group C soccer match between Celtic and Hamburg at Celtic Park in Glasgow, Scotland, on Oct. 22, 2009. (Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Fame takes its toll

    Boyle entered The Priory, a private clinic in north London, on May 31 2009, to be treated for exhaustion according to the "Britan's Got Talent" producers and a newspaper report. Television company TalkbackThames said on June 1, 2009 that Boyle was “exhausted and emotionally drained” and was taking a few days off. (Adrian Dennis / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. The pressure mounts

    Boyle leaves Wembley Plaza Hotel in London on May 27, 2009. Britain's tabloid newspapers wrote about how the singer had lost her temper and swore at two journalists who were taunting her in the days before the finale. (Tim Clarke - Staff / Zuma Press file) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Larger than life

    Locals gather at Blackburn community center to watch Boyle on TV during the final of "Britain's Got Talent" on May 30, 2009. (David Cheskin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Sad song

    Boyle fans show their frustration after she finished second in the "Britain's Got Talent" finale on May 30, 2009. Boyle's financial future is seen as secure, as Simon Cowell and his Syco music label are widely expected to sign her up for an album and there is talk of a Hollywood movie. (David Moir / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. A little Susan in all of us

    Friends and fans at Blackburn community center show their love for Boyle. Although she lost to the dance troupe Diversity, Boyle remains a winner to millions. (Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Thumbs up, Mum!

    “I did this for my late mother,” the unemployed Boyle said about her appearance on "Britain's Got Talent." “I wanted to show her I could do something with my life.” (Andrew Milligan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. The world at her doorstep

    Boyle faces the media outside her home on Thursday, April 16, 2009. (Andrew Milligan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Singing telegram?

    Boyle receives a well wishing message from an unidentified fan at her home on April 16, 2009. In a telephone interview, Boyle did express some impatience with questions over her love life: She raised eyebrows when she told the "Talent" audience that she'd "never been kissed." "It was said as a joke, not an advert. Can we move on?" Boyle said, laughing. (Tony Marsh / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. A new look

    Boyle, pictured outside her home in Blackburn, Scotland, reveals a new hair color and style after undergoing a makeover on April 24, 2009. (Andrew Milligan / PA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Wardrobe change

    Boyle returns to her home in Blackburn, Scotland, on April 21, 2009 sporting a new leather-type jacket and print dress. (Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Caught in the Web

    A young boy watches Boyle on YouTube on Monday, April 21, 2009 in Glasgow, Scotland. The boy is not alone. Millions of people around the world have watched Internet clips of Boyle singing on "Britain's Got Talent." (Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Instant fame

    Boyle poses with fans outside of her home in Blackburn, Scotland, on April 21, 2009. (David Moir / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Town pride

    Locals in the town of Blackburn show their support for Boyle on April 18, 2009. To friends and neighbors in the community of 4,750 people 20 miles west of Edinburgh, it was not surprising that the talent of a local treasure should finally be recognized. “Susan can’t help herself. She just sings whenever she can sing,” said Jackie Russell, manager of Blackburn’s Happy Valley Hotel, where Boyle sings karaoke. (Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. King and singing queen

    Boyle appears on "Larry King Live on April 17, 2009. She asserted that she wouldn't be opting for a new look. "Why should I change?" she said, according to the show transcript. But she conceded, when King mentioned that she's been receiving a lot of fan mail: "I certainly won't be lonely anymore." (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Brush with fame

    Boyle poses singing with a hairbrush at her home in Blackburn, Scotland, on April 16, 2009. The unlikely star said she loves the attention and isn't bothered by those who poke fun at her unpolished appearance. "It goes with the territory. It doesn't bother me." (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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msnbc.com contributor
updated 4/23/2009 12:08:45 PM ET 2009-04-23T16:08:45

She's an Internet sensation, with nearly 70 million YouTube views of her TV debut. Susan Boyle, a frumpy, unemployed, self-confessedly virginal 47-year-old Scots singer, has been acclaimed as a singing wonder since her April 11 audition for the U.K. show “Britain's Got Talent.”

Boyle has a compelling story. Unmarried, living in a small village with her cat Pebbles, volunteering at her church and caring for her sick mother, she still dreamed a dream: singing before a large audience. She did, and the world was wowed.

But come on. Does she really have such a great voice, or is just the improbability of that sound coming from that person that's so captivating the public?

I asked a number of professional singers, critics, vocal coaches and singing teachers for their thoughts. The consensus: She really does have an exceptional voice.

“Her pitch was right on, her quality was clear and she had volume when she belted,” said Rachel York, a Los Angeles singer and actress who performed Boyle's audition piece — “I Dreamed a Dream,” from “Les Misérables” — when playing Fantine on Broadway in 1992.

Referring to another YouTube clip by Boyle, York added, “I was actually amazed listening to ‘Cry Me a River’ — she has a really nice sultry sound.”

Allen Henderson, director of the 6,700-member National Association of Teachers of Singing, ticked off some of the qualities used to judge a singing voice. They include vibrato vs. straight, in tune vs. out of tune, strong vs. weak, breathy vs. clear, warm vs. cool, free vs. forced, and stylistically correct for the genre vs. incorrect.

Based on those criteria, he termed Boyle's voice “good.”

Video: Susan Boyle serenades anchor He said, “As a professional, her performance didn't blow me away, but I thought it was very good. She handled the piece very well.” He declined to offer any pointers, saying he'd need to hear more material sung in lower-pressure situations before making a further assessment.

London vocal coach Tona de Brett, who said she has worked with singers including Dido, Linda McCartney and Johnny Rotten, was more enthusiastic.

“Her breathing sounds good, her tuning is perfect, and she puts in real emotion without being overdone, which is a tremendously good thing, because so often in the pop business, the emotions are superimposed,” de Brett said. “I must say, she's got a knockout gift, a real natural gift.”

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Gene Stout, editor of a blog about popular music and until March the pop critic for the now-shuttered Seattle Post-Intelligencer, called Boyle's voice “stunning — assuming her performance wasn't technically enhanced, which I think it wasn't.”

New York-based vocal teacher and therapist Joan Lader, who has worked with Madonna and Patti LuPone (LuPone played Fantine on Broadway in 1987), described Boyle's voice as “very free, unaffected and pure, with lots of clarity and range. A piece like ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ climbs, and she hit the mark. People have very specific expectations when they hear that song. She met them.”

Boyle hasn't spoken much about what vocal training she's received, and her publicist didn't respond to inquiries on that topic. But her apparent lack of formal training is appealing to Eric Vetro, a Los Angeles vocal coach who said he's worked with Meatloaf, Bette Midler and The Goo Goo Dolls.

“What surprised me most was her naturalness. It wasn't that overly manufactured Broadway sound,” Vetro said. “It was a Broadway sound but with a natural feeling to it and a beautiful tone.”

OK, so Boyle has a good voice. Maybe even a great voice.

But then there's her age and appearance. She's a long way from being a young, toned, skimpily clad pop star. Hell, even opera divas are shedding their Viking helmets and looking foxy these days.

Boyle hasn't disclosed any plans for her singing future, and through her publicist she declined to be interviewed. If she does pursue a record deal or a role in a musical, what are her odds of success?

They're mixed, said several people. Everyone deplored the value typically placed on appearance. At the same time, they acknowledged it's a reality — though not insurmountable.

“There's no shortage of first-class voices out there, but Boyle has a unique story: she's unattractive,” said R.M. Campbell, a Seattle-based music critic for Northwest classical-music site The Gathering Note.

“She's a bit like Ella Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was overweight and wore glasses — everything a woman entertainer shouldn't be,” Campbell said. “It's really, really hard to make a career if a woman isn't attractive. But Fitzgerald was a great singer and a great musician, and she rose above her physical circumstances. Her career lasted 60 years.”

Several coaches said Boyle's very ordinariness could propel her to further success.

“She's an everywoman as opposed to an untouchable fantasy goddess, so maybe that's why people react to her,” said Vetro, the L.A. vocal coach. “They say, ‘She's one of us, but look how talented she is. We want to support her’.”

Video: Susan Boyle serenades anchor Vetro pointed to singers Josh Groban and Michael Bublé as evidence that unusual or even unlikely beginnings and choices of material can lead to success.

“I can see her having one album that is successful, that people who like her voice would buy,” he said. “I don't see her as an act that would tour. And I think she should audition for Broadway or West End shows, where she could really shine.”

He foresees perhaps not lead roles for her but smaller, important singing roles, like that of Mother Abbess singing “Climb Every Mountain“ in “The Sound of Music,” or Nettie Fowler singing “June is Busting Out All Over” in “Carousel.”

“It might be a character role that needs a strong voice, maybe for one big song,” Vetro said.

Boyle is slated to sing again on “Britain's Got Talent” during the show's semifinal round, running several days during the last week in May. If she wins, Boyle will receive 100,000 pounds (roughly $145,800) and will perform for Prince Charles at the Royal Variety Show.

Whatever Boyle's future, London voice coach de Brett says she wishes her wisdom above all, and the courage to be true to herself.

“I hope she isn't swayed too much by publicity or money. I hope she's wise and has good advisers,” de Brett said. “If she's taken up by the right sort of people, I think she'll do beautifully.”

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