In London, Improbable Star Falls Just Short of the Apex

Anthony McPartlin, left, and Declan Donnelly with Susan Boyle at the finals of 'Britain's Got Talent' television program in London. Boyle finished in second place on the reality show.
Anthony McPartlin, left, and Declan Donnelly with Susan Boyle at the finals of 'Britain's Got Talent' television program in London. Boyle finished in second place on the reality show. (Ken McKay -- Rex Features)
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By Karla Adam and Mary Jordan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, May 31, 2009

LONDON, May 30 -- When the votes were finally counted, Susan Boyle's Cinderella story didn't have a fairy tale ending.

The Scottish singing sensation, whose debut on the world scene became one of the most watched Internet videos of all time, lost out to an acrobatic dance troupe Saturday on "Britain's Got Talent," the "American Idol"-style show that propelled Boyle to fame.

British viewers who voted by telephone surprised book-makers and fans around the world by choosing "Diversity" over Boyle and handing them the $160,000 prize and a chance to perform before Queen Elizabeth II.

On hearing the verdict, Boyle looked surprised but then graciously said: "The best people won. They are really entertaining. Lads, I wish you all the best." She then flashed a little leg, shimmied and walked offstage.

Asked later about her future plans, Boyle told reporters she would "play it by ear" but hoped to make an album.

For the finale, the 48-year-old church volunteer wore a floor-length sequined gown and appeared calm as she chose to play it safe and sing the same "Les Miserables" song "I Dreamed a Dream" that first launched her into the spotlight.

After a week of bad publicity in Britain -- including front-page reports of her temper and threats to quit the show -- the famously harsh London tabloids turned against her and even urged people not to vote for the singer they had dubbed the "Hairy Angel."

Boyle's brother, John, said in an interview after the vote that his sister was "disappointed" but that "she still hoped to have a career singing." He said the family was glad the show was over and she could now "relax and have time to herself."

According to the Times of London, Boyle received just over 20 percent of the 4 million telephone votes cast, while Diversity won nearly 25 percent of the votes.

In her home town of Blackburn, where she was well known for singing karaoke in the local pub, many said they believed that people didn't vote for her, even some of her biggest fans, because they believed she would be the runaway winner.

Boyle's initial audition in April was viewed 235 million times, cording to Visible Measures, a company that tracks online videos from YouTube, MySpace and other sites.

From India to China to the United States, Boyle became a phenomenon. When she walked onstage, her frumpy appearance and quirky manner had initially drawn snickers from the judges and members of the audience, who were then visibly shocked by her angelic voice. She was celebrated as a reminder of how appearances and polished looks had become too important.

She was a particularly big hit in the United States, where the sudden star -- a woman who had rarely left her home town and never gotten a driver's license -- was interviewed by Oprah Winfrey and Larry King. But as the weeks wore on in the competition, and her second performance on the television show was not as well received, she appeared to wilt under the intense pressure.

"You had the guts to come back here and face your critics, and you beat them," Simon Cowell, a judge on "Britain's Got Talent," said after her performance Saturday night.

But it wasn't enough to win.

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