For 23 years, Susan Boyle waited for fame to find her — and when it did, the impact was “like a giant demolition ball.”
Relaxed and seeming as at ease with herself as she has been since her remarkable voice catapulted her from obscurity to international sensation on “Britain’s Got Talent,” Boyle gave NBC News’ Meredith Vieira an exclusive interview. She spoke about the shock of becoming a star, and how pleased her mother would have been to see her amazing talent recognized by the world.
Boyle got two surprises during the lengthy interview. The first was a personal call from Donny Osmond, the singer she idolized as a girl. The second was an on-set visit from her idol, singer Elaine Paige.
‘I brush up well’
Boyle sported a new hairstyle — short, brown and frisky. Her distinctive dark eyebrows, trimmed and tamed, framed soft eyes.
“You look gorgeous,” Vieira told her.
Boyle smiled and replied, “Thank you, very much,” adding with a mock fluff of her hair and a self-deprecating laugh, “I brush up quite well.”
She admitted it wasn’t easy leaping into the cauldron of acclaim and fame after so many years of obscurity spent with memories of being mocked as a child. After she skipped several scheduled appearances immediately after her “Britain’s Got Talent” run, there were questions about her health.
“Was that overwhelming for you, because, as you said before, you come from basic obscurity?” Vieira asked. “It is a dream you've wanted. But in a matter of days, because of the power of the Internet, people know your name. People are talking about you.”
“It’s a lot like a giant demolition ball,” Boyle replied in a soft voice. “The impact — like a demolition ball. And anyone who has that kind of impact finds it really hard to get a head around it. I’ve got to be honest here. I guess I had to get my head around it, but through the guidance of a great team — and they are very good — I was able to see that in perspective and really turn that around a little.”
‘I needed a rest’As she becomes more comfortable with her fame, Boyle does not shrink from looking back on those rough days immediately after her surprising second-place finish in the finale of “Britain’s Got Talent.”
“I know there was a little rough spot, a little bit draining, obviously, physically and emotionally — [you] spent a few days in a clinic,” Vieira observed. “Was that good, to get away from the craziness of the demolition ball?”
“Well, when people get exhausted, they automatically have to have a rest,” Boyle replied. “That was pretty much necessary at the time. I needed a rest, just to get away.”
Boyle also talked about having to deal with issues going back to her childhood.
“It wasn't easy for me as a little kid, no, because I got ridiculed in school. You always get that from your peers, anyway,” she said. “I’m the type of person that just couldn’t stand up for herself very well, but I got over it. I’m getting over it now.”
“So was music then, for you, or singing for you sort of an outlet?” Vieira asked.
“I think it was a kind of, yeah, an emotional outlet,” she replied.
‘A sad period’Boyle said she first realized she had a good voice when her teachers kept putting her in the school choir when she was around 12. And, she said, it was her mother who used to watch “Britain’s Got Talent” with her youngest daughter and tell her she could be on that show.
Boyle had cared for her mother in the home she grew up in until her death two years ago at the age of 91. Losing her mother wasn’t easy.
“It was a sad period, but you move on from there,” Boyle said. “And you do something that [you know] she would be proud of you. And she would be very proud of me, doing something like this. Very proud of how I’ve achieved.”
“If she were here now, what do you think she’d say to you?” Vieira asked.
“ ‘Susan, keep going,’ ” Boyle answered.
After years of isolation, Boyle can still be surprised at the effects of her fame. She lit up when Vieira invited her to say hello to a voice from her childhood.
“Susan, congratulations on all of your success,” her girlhood idol, Donny Osmond, said via remote hookup. “It’s wonderful what’s happening with your career, and good luck with this new record that you’re doing. Someday, I make a prediction, you and I will do a record together, where we make ‘Puppy Love.’ ”
Boyle said that would be great.
After saying goodbye to Osmond, Boyle was surprised on set by the arrival of musical theater star Elaine Paige, who has inspired Boyle’s own singing.
“Oh, my God!” Boyle exclaimed when Paige said hello. “Gosh, but it's a thrill for me to at last meet you, because I have been wanting to say hello and to meet you for some time now. So at last these lovely people have given me the opportunity to come and say hello to you.”
Said Paige: “You captured the imagination of the world.”
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Susan Boyle wows the world
‘I don’t want it to end’Boyle left no question that her struggles have been worth it. She has, after all, been dreaming of being exactly where she is now for more than two decades.
“It’s a long time — 23 years,” she told Vieira. “I don’t have to dream anymore, and I’m glad to be given this opportunity to get back into practice.”
Time and again, Boyle was at a loss for words to describe exactly what her journey has been like.
“It’s just been unbelievable; it’s indescribable,” Boyle said to Vieira of her meteoric rise. “Being plucked from obscurity is a bit like going on a long journey, really; you don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t know how it’s going to end.”
“Are you having a good time?” Vieira asked.
“I’m having a wonderful time,” Boyle, wearing a simple purple dress, assured her interviewer. “I don’t want it to end. It’s just incredible. It’s indescribable, really.”
For more of Meredith Vieira’s interview with Susan Boyle, tune in to “America’s Got Talent” Wednesday, July 22 (9-10 p.m. ET) on NBC.