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The Scot Heard Round the World

The rehabilitation of Isiah Thomas and Susan Boyle, the surprising songbird on British TV, occupy the mind of Tony Kornheiser.Video by Atkinson & Co.

As Boyle left the stage after knocking the world's socks off, Cowell told her she could return to her village "with your head held high."

She has indeed gone back to Blackburn, her home about 20 miles from Edinburgh in West Lothian, Scotland, where children are now clapping as she walks into stores and television crews from around the world have begun rolling into town.

As details of her life emerge, Boyle's story only becomes more unlikely. The youngest of nine children, she lives alone with her cat, Pebbles. She spent years taking care of her mother, who recently died, and she lives in a government-subsidized home.

She always wanted to sing in front of a large audience, but mostly she just sings in church.

On Easter Sunday, the day after her television debut, Boyle -- dubbed "The Woman Who Shut Up Simon Cowell" in one headline -- received a standing ovation when she went to Mass.

"We let out a wee bit of a cheer for her. We are quite proud of her," Boyle's parish priest, the Rev. Ryszard Holuka, said in a telephone interview.

He added that Boyle is a "quiet soul."

"At gatherings and anniversary parties, she'd stand up and give a song," he said. "She never flaunted her voice; this is the first time it's been publicly recognized."

Charles Earley, a neighbor who has known Boyle for 20 years, said it's a stunning turnaround for a "shy, solitary person who is suddenly somebody."

In a news release Tuesday titled "Susan Boyle Goes Global," Tom Kerr, a civic leader in West Lothian, said "tributes from across the globe are flooding in" to Blackburn, a village of 5,000 that is now "firmly on the map."

All the adulation has come with a tinge of guilt. On Internet sites where Boyle's story has been endlessly churned over, much of the discussion centers on how people initially expected nothing from Boyle because of her decidedly unglamorous looks.

Many have said it was a poor reflection on both the live audience and others watching that they were surprised when a "frumpy woman" turned out to have the "voice of an angel."

Boyle herself has noted the issue but seems to be unfazed.

In a British newspaper interview, she said she entered the contest at the behest of her late mother, who urged her to "take the risk."

She said it was "a bit of a shock" to see herself on television, and she thought she looked too fat -- "like a garage."

"Modern society is too quick to judge people on their appearances," she said. "There is not much you can do about it; it is the way they think; it is the way they are. But maybe this could teach them a lesson, or set an example."

Special correspondent Karla Adam contributed to this report.

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