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Susan Boyle faces final showdown

SUSAN Boyle, the dowdy Scottish church volunteer who may or may not be a world-class singer, takes the stage for the finals of "Britain's Got Talent" today, with the public wondering if she will win the show or crack under the pressure.

All the amateur singer who suffers from learning disabilities has to do is outshine nine other competitors on live television in front of millions of viewers in Britain and a worldwide Internet audience.

And there have been signs Boyle is feeling the heat. She lost her cool during a confrontation with two reporters this week that saw police intervene. One contest judge said she even contemplated pulling out of the competition.

Judge Piers Morgan has called for everyone to back off Boyle, but said she would carry on, no matter what.

"She is one tough lady who has had to fight since the day she was born," he wrote on his blog yesterday. "There is no way she's going to quit now as some of the papers seem to be suggesting, trust me."

"Britain's Got Talent" has mesmerized Britain all week as a bizarre range of competitors vie for today's finals. The winner, to be announced at the end of the show, will earn a 100,000 pound (US$159,000) prize and a chance to perform before Queen Elizabeth II at the Royal Variety Show.

The final won't be shown live in the United States, or streamed over the Internet - meaning US fans will have to rely on video sharing sites like YouTube, where videos will be posted by the show's producers once it ends this evening.

Boyle sailed through her last test - a performance Sunday of "Memory" from "Cats" - although she started poorly and did not seem to captivate the audience as much as in her first round. And if there is more evidence of diva-like behavior, Boyle risks breaking the almost mystical bond she enjoys with the British public.

Voters could swing to 12-year-old soul singer Shaheen Jafargholi, or teenage heartthrob Shaun Smith.

They could also be swayed by John Neill and Sallie Lax, a granddad and granddaughter singing duo known as 2 Grand. And the judges seemed quite taken with saxophonist Julian Smith.

There are also several dance acts, including a two-man comedy team that performs shirtless and in skirts.

Boyle became a favorite to win the competition after her first appearance in April. Her frumpy appearance drew condescending looks from the studio audience and the judges - who include Simon Cowell of "American Idol" fame - but her soaring, evocative voice silenced the doubters and turned her into an Internet sensation.

Videos of her performance of "I Dreamed a Dream" from the musical "Les Miserables" are the fifth most-watched in YouTube history, viewed more than 220 million times, said industry watcher Matt Fiorentino of Visible Measures, a Massachusetts firm. The video of her second performance is nearly as popular.

Twitter traffic was filled yesterday with speculation about whether Boyle could lose or fall apart.

Industry analysts point out that FremantleMedia Enterprises, which owns the digital rights to the show, has failed to capitalize on the demand for video clips.

Eliot Van Buskirk, a writer for who covers the industry, thinks a unique commercial opportunity was missed.

"This video of Susan Boyle is quickly becoming the most viewed video of all-time - and nobody's making money," Van Buskirk said.

Rebecca Perfect, a spokeswoman with Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, which is handling FremantleMedia's publicity, would not comment on whether the company has struck a new deal to profit from the video clips.

Most hits received by videos of Boyle were unofficial uploads by fans, and none carried advertising. But the producers have built global brand recognition for the show.

Hunter Walk, a product manager for YouTube, credited "Britain's Got Talent" for thinking "very new media" about its content.

"They immediately got the sense that their audience is worldwide," Walk said. "They worked with us to get this content up immediately after broadcast."

Boyle's life story has also helped win over the world's media. She cared for her widowed mother for years, lives alone with her cat, Pebbles, in one of Scotland's poorest regions, and said she's never been kissed.

Psychologist David Wilson warned in the Daily Mail yesterday that a woman of Boyle's background would have difficulty coping with the intense media focus.

He said she was "a psychological lamb to the slaughter."


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