A 48-year-old spinster from Blackburn, West Lothian with bushy eyebrows and wispy brown hair, she couldn't have looked any less the popstar on her TV debut. It looked as though she was about to become a punchline - just like at school, where she had been dubbed Simple Susan - as BGT judges Piers Morgan and Amanda Holden gawped on in horror. But then she sang. A couple of million YouTube hits and an all-important Demi Moore re-Tweet later and Boyle was the biggest musical phenomenon of 2009. Her instant transformation into a global star re-energised the TV talent show genre, proving that such programmes can generate stories that are even more surprising than fiction.
The surprises continue on her debut album, which contains more hits than misses among its mixture of pop, religious and West End covers. It would have been easy for Boyle's label to dash off factory-line clones of the title track safe in the knowledge that this record would become a hit on its astounding pre-sales alone. However, someone clearly sees potential in Boyle as an artist beyond 2009, because I Dreamed A Dream has been produced with a subtlety and care too often lacking in reality TV spin-offs. Lead track 'Wild Horses' should have been the giveaway, as Boyle tackles the Stones stalwart with a grace and poise that many thought she lacked after her post-BGT troubles. Even Jagger and Richards fanatics will surely doff their caps to the Scotswoman's rendition of the song, which she claims in her sleevenotes is filled with "irony and bitterness".
Elsewhere, she resists hitching up her skirt for a good ol' knees-up on 'Daydream Believer', preferring to show a previously unseen softer side to her voice and personality. Similarly, her dramatic reworkings of Patty Griffin's folk number 'Up To The Mountain' and a showstopping take on Skeeter Davis's 'End Of The World' will confound her critics - because they genuinely do pack an emotional punch. It's only when the song choices become more predictable ('Cry Me A River', 'Amazing Grace', 'Silent Night') that I Dreamed A Dream loses its sparkle. Performed so many times before by so many great acts, Boyle's straight covers are unmemorable. However, this shouldn't detract from what is, for the most part, an enjoyable and heartwarming album. Whatever music Boyle released it would have fulfilled her life's ambition, but this record is good enough to suggest the dream could last a little while longer yet.