Susan Boyle may be a worldwide phenomenon now, but she once was the youngest of nine children, a shy, bullied girl, who used music as an escape. As she gears up for her exclusive TV Guide Network concert special, I Dreamed a Dream: The Susan Boyle Story (Sunday, Dec. 13 at 8/7c), Boyle sat down with the creators of the special to relive each step of her inspirational journey. In Part 1 of the interview, Boyle discusses the Britain's Got Talent audition that changed her life forever, and how her closeness with her mother was a driving force behind her success.
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What was it about Britain's Got Talent that made you want to apply for it?
Well, I'd watched the show on television like everyone. And I had promised my mum that I would do something with my life just before she died. So I applied for it, filled out the application form, went through the preliminaries, went before the panel and then was lucky enough to be picked by them.
Who had you enjoyed on the show before?
I liked the Glaswegians on it when I saw it on the TV. But it was when I saw wee [choir singer] Faryl [Smith] that I thought "I could do that. I fancy that." Paul Potts was exceptional too. He was an inspiration to everybody, all the ordinary people like me that just enjoy singing. If you can do it when you're working in the Carphone Warehouse you can do it from anywhere.
What were your nerves like at the audition?
Pretty jangled, you know? I was all over the place. I went on stage and my knees were knocking, but I decided you either show nerves or you get cheeky with it. I said, 'Right, the cheek's the thing.' I introduced myself as Susan Boyle and that I'd like to be a professional singer like Elaine Paige. ... Everything I said to the judges was completely unplanned. The Elaine Paige thing I'd thought of before because she's always been a favorite, but the carrying on and the swagger? I had no idea where that came from.
Why did you choose the song "I Dreamed A Dream"?
It was just a song I loved from a musical I loved. I'd seen a production of Les Miserables in Edinburgh, and I liked the mother figure. It was after my mother died that I'd seen the show, and I loved the song and what it meant. I'd sort of regressed after she'd died, if you like.
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Can we talk about your mother?
Of course we can. It was life-changing not having her to depend on so much. I had to learn to do things for myself. ... This was a promise that I'd made to my mum — that I'd do something with my singing. She was the reason I pursued my singing. She had a good belief that I could do it. ... We'd seen a soloist singing on the TV just before she passed, and I said, "Is that what you want me to do, mum?" And she said, "Yes," and I said, "Are you serious?" And she said, "Of course I am." So, I decided to do something about it. I couldn't straight away because the bereavement hit me hard. But I'm getting over that slowly and putting my promise into practice.
How did you cope with that bereavement?
After mum died in 2007, it didn't fully register until maybe six months after, when the loneliness set in and there was nobody around except my cat. When you lose someone as powerful as your mum, you feel as if a part of you is taken away and that does things to your confidence. My confidence was pretty down at that time. A good way of leveling it out, I found, was to tell myself that even though she's not here physically, mentally and spiritually she is. That's what keeps you going. I have my faith, which is the backbone of who I am, really.
What was it like growing up in such a large family?
Oh, we were quite a squad, all with different abilities, but all very musical. My brother Joe was a songwriter, too. My dad used to sing. My mother sung and played piano. I have two sisters that are very good singers. We were a wee bit like the Von Trapps! There were guitars sitting about in the house and a piano, and we'd all experiment with them. We loved The Beatles in the '60s. I was just a wee lassie and we'd sit and watch Top of the Pops and wait for them and The Rolling Stones come on. My dad hated that program, so he used to turn it down. I used to turn it up just for devilment.
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Outside of music, are your memories of growing up happy?
They're mixed, like everybody else's. The majority of my childhood was quite happy until I started getting bullied at school. They used to knock me about a bit and try and make me cry. There's nothing worse than another person having power over you by bullying you, and you not knowing how to get rid of that thing... I didn't think I could trust anybody, and it made me a bit of a sitting target. By the time I got to secondary school, I wasn't sure who was my friend or my enemy. I didn't make friends very easily. I did try [to] speak to people, but they made fun of me. I often felt pushed aside.
Was music a release from this?
It was a complete emotional release. I had a slight disability... and I had to find my abilities and concentrate on that instead. Singing was the one thing that I was good at. Music was my escape, and my brother bought me lots of LPs. I was daft about the Osmonds at the time. I used to go up to my bedroom and play records. I could be who I wanted to be. I used to imagine myself singing to an audience. It was my safe haven. Even at 13, I would see people singing on the TV and wanted to be in that position and entertain people.
When did you first discover that you had a powerful voice?
I've sung since I was about 9. I'd do theatrical stuff and join choirs. I was picked for a solo once, but choirs for me were about hiding behind other people. They were about taking comfort in letting other people take the lead. I was quite shy back then. Hard to believe after everything that's happened this year, I know! But I was. By the time you get to my age, you lose that shyness.
If you'd told the young Susan, at 12 years old, that this was what was going to happen to her, what would she have said?
She wouldn't have said a word. She would've been too shy to say anything.