Susan Boyle faces final showdown

May 29, 2009 5:16:00 PM PDT
Can she do it? Or will she crack? It's testing time for Susan Boyle, the Cinderella-like Scottish church volunteer who may or may not be a world-class singer. She goes on stage Saturday night in the finals of "Britain's Got Talent," even as tabloid newspapers call her a foul-mouthed lout and some critics suggest she isn't all that great at the microphone.

VOTE: Will Susan Boyle win Britain's Got Talent?

All this untested amateur singer who suffers from learning disabilities has to do now is outshine nine other tough competitors on live television in front of millions of viewers in Britain and a huge Internet audience around the world.

The pressure would rattle a pro - even Aretha Franklin admits she wasn't at her best at President Barack Obama's inauguration - and there are signs Boyle is feeling the heat.

Already this week she lost her cool during a confrontation with two reporters that saw the police intervene, and, according to one contest judge, contemplated pulling out of the competition to soothe her frazzled nerves.

Judge Piers Morgan has called for everyone to back off and give Boyle room to breathe. He said she would carry on, no matter what.

"She is one tough lady who has had to fight since the day she was born," he wrote on his blog Friday. "There is no way she's going to quit now as some of the papers seem to be suggesting, trust me."

"Britain's Got Talent" has mesmerized Britain all week as a bizarre range of competitors vie for the finals.

The last two finalists will be chosen Friday night under complex rules that give both call-in voters and the three celebrity judges a say. All 10 finalists then compete Saturday, with the winner announced at the end of the show. The prize: $159,000 and a chance to perform before Queen Elizabeth II at the Royal Variety Show.

It won't be shown live in the United States, or streamed over the Internet, meaning U.S. fans will have to rely on video sharing sites like YouTube, where videos will be posted by fans and by the show's producers once it ends at 5 p.m. EDT Saturday.

Boyle sailed through her last test - a performance Sunday of "Memory" from "Cats" - although she started poorly and did not seem to captivate the audience as much as in her first round, when no one knew her dowdy looks masked a soaring, evocative voice.

But the competition is real - and if there is more evidence of diva-like behavior in the run-up to the performance, Boyle risks breaking the almost mystical bond she enjoys with the British public.

If that happens, voters could easily swing to an incredibly cute, talented soul singer, Shaheen Jafargholi, who's only 12, or teenage heartthrob Shaun Smith, whose has the easy good looks of a male lead in a Disney movie.

They could also be swayed by the schmaltzy appeal of John Neill and Sallie Lax, a granddad and granddaughter singing duo known as 2 Grand. It's hard not to be moved when Neill talks about how he is wearing his late wife's wedding ring on a pendant underneath his tuxedo.

And the judges seemed quite taken with finalist Julian Smith, a handsome saxophonist in the soft, Kenny G style.

There are also several dance acts, including a two-man comedy team that performs shirtless and in skirts.

Boyle became a favorite to win the competition almost immediately after her first appearance in April. Her frumpy appearance drew condescending looks from the judges - who include Simon Cowell of "American Idol" fame - and the studio audience, but her voice silenced the doubters and turned her into an Internet sensation.

Videos of her performance of "I Dreamed a Dream" from the musical "Les Miserables" are the fifth most-watched in YouTube history, viewed more than 220 million times, said industry watcher Matt Fiorentino of Visible Measures, a Massachusetts firm. The video of her second performance is nearly as popular.

Not to mention the traffic on Twitter, which was filled Friday with speculation about whether Boyle could lose or fall apart.

Industry analysts point out that FremantleMedia Enterprises, which owns the digital rights to the show, has failed to capitalize on the unprecedented demand for video clips of the show.

Eliot Van Buskirk, a writer for Wired.com who covers the industry, thinks a unique commercial opportunity was missed.

"This video of Susan Boyle is quickly becoming the most viewed video of all-time - and nobody's making money," said Van Buskirk. "It's been sort of a growing pains stage of ad-supported media."

Rebecca Perfect, a spokeswoman with Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, which is handling publicity for FremantleMedia Enterprises, would not comment on whether the company has struck a new deal allowing it to profit from the video clips.

"We're not having any comment on that," she said.

The majority of the hits received by videos of Boyle were unofficial uploads by fans. None of the videos carried advertising.

But the producers have built global brand recognition for the show.

Hunter Walk, a product manager for YouTube, credited "Britain's Got Talent" and its producers for thinking "very new media" about their content and moving quickly to distribute it.

"To the show's credit, they immediately got the sense that their audience is worldwide and that's why they chose to quickly partner with YouTube to get this content out there," said Walk. "They worked with us to get this content up immediately after broadcast."

Boyle's life story - she cared for her widowed mother for years, lives alone with her cat Pebbles in one of Scotland's poorest regions and said she's never been kissed - also helped win over the world's media.

Psychologist David Wilson warned in the Daily Mail Friday that a woman of Boyle's background would have difficulty coping with the intense media focus, which has turned her - for this week, at least - into one of the most famous, and hunted, women on the planet.

He said she was "a psychological lamb to the slaughter."


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