Susan Boyle, the Scottish church volunteer whose soaring voice has taken her to TV fame in a matter of weeks, goes into the finals of "Britain's Got Talent" on Saturday as the public wonders if she will crack under the pressure.
To win, the amateur singer — who has learning disabilities — has to 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 this week during a confrontation with two reporters, and the police intervened. One contest judge said she contemplated pulling out of the competition to soothe her frazzled nerves.
And her competition isn't giving up without a fight: The Sun tabloid carried a front page picture of young Hollie Steel, who pulled at viewers' heartstrings when she burst into tears in the middle of "Edelweiss" from "The Sound of Music." In an unusual move, she was allowed to redo the song, and the cherubic 10-year-old will be among those joining Boyle in the finals.
It would take "a heart of stone" not to have given Hollie a second chance, judge Piers Morgan told the BBC when challenged about the decision. "What are you going to do? Drive her off the stage when that happens?"
Boyle still remains the odds-on favorite — British bookmaker William Hill said it was offering 10-11 odds on her victory Saturday. The betting service had briefly lowered its odds on Boyle when the reports of erratic behavior seemed to show "there might be a chink in her armor," according to spokesman Rupert Adams. But he said William Hill "got absolutely hammered" with bets and quickly went back to predicting a Boyle victory.
"Britain's Got Talent" has mesmerized Britain all week as a bizarre range of competitors vies for Saturday's finals. The winner, to be announced at the end of the show, will earn a 100,000 pound ($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 U.S. fans will have to rely on video sharing sites like YouTube, where videos will be posted by the show's producers once it ends Saturday 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.
Voters could swing to Hollie, or 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.
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