The global community created by online video means that we can now watch a star be born — thousands of miles away, on a show unavailable on American TV — in real time. Witness Susan Boyle.
Boyle, who performed I Dreamed A Dream from Les Miserables on Britain’s Got Talent last weekend, has become a viral sensation in mere days, thanks to the (at last check) roughly 15 million views her performance has garnered on YouTube. There are so many details that make this clip flat-out brilliant — Boyle’s sassy response to questions about her age and the heavily eyelinered teenager in the audience whom the camera catches eye-rolling at Boyle’s dream to become a professional singer are just two of the choicest. Oh, and of course, her actual performance, which is beautiful — so beautiful, in fact, that the judges all but apologize for having such low expectations of Boyle’s abilities, which were clearly based solely on her appearance.
Boyle’s backstory isn’t detailed on the show, but subsequent news coverage has detailed how the 47-year-old karaoke enthusiast spent most of her life taking care of her mother, who passed away a year or so ago. It’s the sort of underdog story people love — and especially love watching on YouTube.
One interesting twist to this story is that the producers of Britain’s Got Talent have not taken down the many YouTube bootlegs available currently, despite having a half-decent video of her performance on the show’s official site. The Guardian reports that the official site has also seen a major boost in traffic, with video views jumping by 500 percent, but the Guardian itself, however, embeds in the piece a YouTube version of the performance.
Appearing on The Early Show this morning, Boyle put no emphasis on where Americans might be able to watch her next performance, perhaps knowing all too well that they’ll watch it where they want to. As Tony winner Patti LuPone, who was the first to perform I Dreamed a Dream and spoke to Boyle via phone on the show, said, “I saw it on YouTube like everybody else.”
While American Idol contestants tend to languish in bargain bins or off-Broadway musicals, Boyle’s predecessor in viral fame, Paul Potts, was far more successful. After winning Britain’s Got Talent in 2007, Paul Potts continued singing, completing a 85-city concert tour in November 2008 and continuing to make regular appearances — his second album, Passione, will be out on Columbia Records May 5th. And it’s worth noting that since 2007 he has embraced the medium that made him an international star, actively using YouTube along with his well-designed official site.
Boyle’s story is still in progress — in fact, she has quite a long way to go. There are seven more weeks of auditions before the show’s final round of performances on May 30, and there’s no guarantee that she’ll make it to the end. But if she continues to bring the same cheeky attitude, passion and awe-inspiring talent to the show week after week, her success could easily become the story of the summer.