In less than three minutes, her life changed forever.
On January 21, 2009, Susan Boyle, a 47-year-old church volunteer from Scotland, stepped onstage to audition for a spot on England's hit TV show Britain's Got Talent. She stood before the audience, judges and television viewers and shared her dream—to be a professional singer.
Some people snickered. Others rolled their eyes. But when Susan belted out the first line of the Les Miserables anthem "I Dreamed a Dream," jeers turned to cheers. Her showstopping performance, which has been viewed more than 120 million times on YouTube, captured people's hearts and catapulted her to stardom.
"It was one of the most extraordinary moments of the entertainment world in 2009," Oprah says.
Before this moment, however, Susan's life was far from extraordinary.
When Susan was a baby, her parents were told not to expect much from Susan, the youngest of their nine children. She had been deprived of oxygen at birth, which left her with a slight disability.
Susan says she struggled to fit in throughout her childhood. "I didn't make friends very easily. I couldn't trust anybody, and when I did try to speak to people, they made fun of me," she says. "So the only escape from all that, really, was music."
It was Susan's lifelong dream to be a professional singer, but when her mother died in 2007, she says she lost the will to sing. "The loneliness really set in," she says. "I know that [my mother] meant me to do something with my life, but I didn't know until I applied for the television program."
To the shock of many loyal fans, Susan came in second place on Britain's Got Talent, but that didn't stop her debut album from reaching number one on the charts.
Since its release in November 2009, I Dreamed a Dream has sold more than 8 million copies worldwide, making it the biggest female debut of all time! "It's astounding," Susan says. "It's very humbling, as well."
Since becoming a worldwide sensation, Susan's life—and look—have changed dramatically. "Before the audition, my life was kind of mundane, really. It was really routine, like everyone else's," she says. "But after the audition, people began recognizing me on the street, and I had begun to take myself a bit more seriously as a professional singer."
Some people may not recognize Susan now that she's working with hair stylists, makeup artists and wardrobe consultants. "My old look resembled a wee waif from Blackburn," she says. "The new look is more professional, more polished."
While Susan says she's enjoying being in the spotlight now, fame took a toll early on. In June 2009, Susan spent three days in a London hospital, recuperating from exhaustion.
"There are two types of exhaustion. There's exhaustion due to health and exhaustion due to work," she says. "I like to be busy, so I was very exhausted because I worked. So I was fine. Absolutely fine. But it's over with now. You get over that stage, and you just get on with your life. Don't dwell on the past."
Susan takes comfort in knowing she's never alone. She says her late mother is always with her in spirit. "[My mother is] right here in this room. She would have been really proud of me," she says. "I do feel there is a kind of presence. I do feel there is someone there who's saying, 'Susan, keep going.' And that person is my mother."