She is an internationally acclaimed Internet phenomenon and a symbol of the folly of underestimating people because of the way they look. But in a shocking upset, Susan Boyle, the 47-year-old Scottish church volunteer whose stunning auditionfor the “Britain’s Got Talent” TV show last month has been viewed something like 90 million times on YouTube, lost in the final round of the program on Saturday night.
After the audience votes had been tallied, Ms. Boyle placed second, beaten by a joyfully innovative dance troupe named Diversity.
Winners of “Britain’s Got Talent,” one of a host of talent shows that are among the most-watched programs in Britain, receive about $160,000 and a spot on the roster of the Royal Variety Performance, presented in front of the Queen. Their high profiles also virtually assure that they will have lucrative careers in show business.
But the same is often true for the runners-up, who in this case included Julian Smith, a soulful saxophonist who was a darling of the studio audience and came in third. And the exposure Ms. Boyle has received since her original audition, culminating in an appearance on “Oprah” in the United States, means she is a hot property who is virtually guaranteed a recording contract.
For weeks she seemed to be a shoo-in for victory. To see a middle-aged woman from a small town — who lives alone with her cat, Pebbles, and seemed at first to be almost comically awkward — open her mouth to reveal such a beautiful voice was revelatory and inspiring. Celebrities like Demi Moore said she they were rooting for her.
But in recent days there were worries that Ms. Boyle — who is said to have suffered slight brain damage when she was deprived of oxygen at birth, and is so unworldly that she has no computer — was cracking under all the pressure. Various tabloid reports had her paralyzed with nerves, lashing out at reporters and swearing uncharitably about her competitors. She was said to be a packed suitcase away from quitting the competition and going back home, to the town of Blackburn in Scotland.
Piers Morgan, one of the judges, described her in his blog as “a frightened rabbit caught in the headlights.”
But in the end Ms. Boyle proved stoic in defeat, graciously congratulating her opponents.
As popular as it is, the show has also come been criticized for the way it so cruelly raises contestants’ hopes and then smashes them. Several performers who made the semifinals, and were then rudely dismissed by Simon Cowell, one of the judges, and voted unceremoniously off, began weeping with disappointment.
“This show is all about manipulating the eagerness for celebrity among vulnerable, often desperate people,” David Wilson, a professor at Birmingham City University who briefly worked as a psychologist on “Big Brother” several years ago, wrote in The Daily Mail. “The more tears, humiliation, conflict and embarrassment, the more the public loves it.”