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Susan Boyle: A cautionary tale for celebrity age

'Britain's Got Talent' contestant Susan Boyle returns to her home in Blackburn in West Lothian, Scotland, April 21, 2009. REUTERS/David Moir
— image credit: Reuters

By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - Talent show contestant Susan Boyle's giddying rise from unemployed Scottish church volunteer to global superstar has come at a price, in what is being seen as a cautionary tale for the celebrity age.

On the way up, the 48-year-old's performance last month of "I Dreamed a Dream" on television series "Britain's Got Talent" was downloaded nearly 200 million times on the Internet, and within days Boyle was headline news around the world.

Camera crews camped outside the home where she lived alone with her cat; Larry King and Oprah Winfrey invited her on to their U.S. shows and tabloid newspapers tracked her every move.

But as the pressure built ahead of Saturday's final, which Boyle had been runaway favorite to win, she was reduced to tears, threw a tantrum and threatened to pull out of the show.

On Sunday, after her shock defeat by dance troupe Diversity, the singer was admitted to a clinic in London that treats people with mental health problems, suffering from exhaustion. The Sun tabloid reported she had an "emotional breakdown."

"Being famous is not all it's cracked up to be, and the idea that you can have a personal life and a media life is often pretty conflicting," said David Moxon, a health psychologist who specializes in stress.

"It must be difficult to walk down the street and be mobbed by people.

"I don't think Boyle did that (deliberately pursued celebrity). She was pursuing a love of singing that she had and that is the sad part of this story. But it is a cautionary tale for people and it shows fame has its price."

Moxon and others said people's reaction to pressure was impossible to predict. The fact that Boyle was starved of oxygen at birth leading to learning difficulties, according to show judge Piers Morgan, may have affected her ability to cope.

BACKLASH

Experts question whether shows like "Britain's Got Talent" and "American Idol" are unnecessarily cruel.

Judge Simon Cowell in particular is renowned for his acerbic put-downs of less accomplished acts, some of which are watched by tens of millions of people.

One of Boyle's co-finalists, Hollie Steel, burst into tears during her faltering semi-final performance and begged to be allowed to try again. Aged 10, she was deemed by many to be too young to appear on the show.

And a potential American Idol contestant, ridiculed by Cowell after her audition, apparently committed suicide in November outside the home of fellow judge Paula Abdul.

Morgan, who backed Boyle throughout Britain's Got Talent, put some of the blame for her travails on the media and public. The former tabloid newspaper editor felt people turned against the singer having built her into a household name.

"Show business is a fickle business, and the reality TV end of it even more so," Morgan said in his blog on the show's website, written before Boyle was admitted to a clinic.

"The British, and I'm as guilty as everyone ... like nothing better than building people up, and knocking 'em down again."

Boyle's disheveled appearance and idiosyncratic manner challenged people's notion of what a celebrity should be, prompting commentators to ask why people were so surprised that a woman dubbed "frumpy" and a "hairy angel" should be so gifted.

Although she failed to win Britain's Got Talent, and in spite of questions over her ability to cope with pressure, experts predict a bright future for the singer.

"I predict she will have a huge selling album out in a few months, and more to follow," Morgan said, amid reports that Cowell's record label is about to sign Boyle.

British bookmakers are already taking bets on Boyle recording a No. 1 UK and U.S. chart hit and appearing in a West End musical before the year is out.

(Editing by Steve Addison)

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