Simon Cowell sneered and the huge audience at the “Britain’s Got Talent” show made the sort of faces associated with a bad smell. The object of their disaffection was contestant No. 43212, a plain, middle-aged woman from Scotland with bushy eyebrows and a dress and hairdo that might have been stylish when Dwight Eisenhower was president.
The looks of disdain would shortly turn to tears of sheer elation, as Dawna Friesen said in a report filed for TODAY Wednesday. But first, there was the Cowell torture test for the woman to endure.
“What’s your name, darling?” Cowell said, his tone dripping with condescension.
The woman, who seemed somewhat unnerved by the bright lights and the big crowd in the concert hall where the show was recorded, said she was Susan Boyle. She said she was 47 years old, unemployed, and lived alone with her cat, Pebbles. She had never gone on a date and had never been kissed, she added in a thick brogue.
But Boyle showed a certain presence and a confidence that didn’t gibe with her appearance, which The Times of London would describe as “frumpy.”
Asked what she was doing on “Britain’s Got Talent,” she struck a saucy pose with her hand on her hip and replied, “I’ve always wanted to perform in front of a large audience. I’m going to make that audience rock.”
And what did she hope to get out of it, Cowell persisted.
“I’m trying to be a professional singer,” Boyle said. “I’ve not been getting the chance before. But here’s hoping it will change.”
That’s when the looks on the faces of the spectators really screwed up in disbelief.
And then the music for “I Dreamed a Dream” from the musical “Les Miserables” began, and Boyle began to sing. By the time Boyle hit her third note, Cowell’s eyebrows had shot up into the rafters in amazement. Within a dozen more, the audience rose as one in rapture at a voice that must have been forged in heaven.
The other two judges looked on with gaping jaws as Boyle turned the crowd’s cynicism into tear-soaked adoration.
When she had finished, the theater erupted into a tsunami of cheers and applause as Boyle started to walk off the stage. She was stopped by Cowell, who reminded her she needed to hear from the judges.
First was Piers Morgan, who told her, “That was the biggest surprise I’ve had in three years on the show.” His vote, he said, was “the biggest yes I have ever given anybody.”
Cowell completed the judging with the third resounding yes. “Susan Boyle, you can go back to the village with your head held high,” he said. “It’s three yeses.”
A huge smile erupted on Boyle’s face as she made a fist and danced in place in her white pumps.
Within days, the video of her performance would be a YouTube sensation. By Wednesday, more than 5 million people had watched her amazing performance, Cowell was already setting up a record deal for her on his own label and British bookmakers were installing her to become the show’s next Paul Potts.
Two years ago, Potts had shown up at “Britain’s Got Talent” as an unassuming mobile phone salesman from Wales. He, too, was greeted with looks of disbelief that evaporated when he cut loose with an operatic voice on loan from the gods. Potts became an international recording star and is releasing his second album.
Boyle, a volunteer church worker, still has a long way to go on the show, but she’s become an overnight media darling in Great Britain. Since her debut, viewers and readers have learned that she’s from the little village of Blackburn in western Scotland, where local kids sometimes called her names and laughed at her because of her appearance and the fact that she lives alone with a cat.
A local newspaper reported that Boyle is the youngest of nine children and attended Edinburgh Acting School nearly 20 years ago, but left to care for her ailing mother, who died two years ago.
Friesen reported that after her stunning debut, Boyle said, “It’s really surreal. Basically I wanted to fulfill a wish to my mother. I wanted to do something with my life. Not only that, I feel I have a bit more to offer.”
-- The Associated Press contributed to this report