Five albums (a sixth due in October), millions in the bank, two Grammy nominations and international fame have done very little to change the woman who sent jaws to the floor with her version of “I Dreamed a Dream,” on Britain’s Got Talent in 2009.
Susan Boyle, about to kick-off a U.S. tour, remains as humble, honest and appreciative as that night she determinedly walked on stage, contestant name sticker on her chest, and sang to the world a lesson about first impressions.
“I would have a new dress,” Boyle said, given a re-do of her audition. “I would have ditched that frock. It was just so terrible. It looked like I was wearing a doily.”
But once Boyle opened her mouth, few were taking note of what she was wearing. Her performance melted even the most hardened of judges, Simon Cowell, whom she still chats with on occasion. Even in her wildest dreams, Boyle could not have imagined the success that would follow.
“(The) hardest part was getting used to the idea that so many people wanted to have a piece of me,” she said. “Because that’s what happens when you put yourself out in the limelight. You get people on your doorstep you didn’t really know. People suddenly taking an interest in me.”
And yet, she’s kept herself grounded – same lifelong friends and a relatively simple routine of singing (she has yet to tire of “I Dreamed A Dream”), playing the piano, reading and watching television. And for inspiration, Boyle hits the ‘play’ button on Michael Buble, Donny Osmond and Bon Jovi. Incidentally, despite the success of her signature tune coming from the Broadway musical “Les Miserables,” Boyle actually prefers Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
Granted, Boyle’s life hasn’t been totally stagnant since tens of millions of viewers have watched her YouTube clip to stardom. Gone is the muted wardrobe and unwieldy hair, replaced with a polished look, for a woman whose albums have broken record sales and topped the charts.
But new clothes and a new house aside, Boyle shies away from the extravagance she can now easily afford. Still, fame and money have created problems with her family.
“I have a very loving family, a very close family,” she explained. “Through no fault of my own, these things happen. Some of them can handle it. Some of them can’t. That’s all I’m going to say about it. I don’t want to get too deep.”
And in the past five years, as cameras focused on her new look, microphones picked up on what many thought was unusual behavior during interviews. Boyle was forced to confront rumors that there was something more serious than just bashfulness at play. She had been teased as a child, taunted with names and told that she was severely handicapped.
“I was bullied at school,” Boyle said. “I had a very hard upbringing because of it. I won’t go into too much detail but I have had a hard time.”
Boyle was diagnosed as having brain damage.
It took the scrutinizing glare of the spotlight for her to seek a new medical evaluation that concluded she had Asperger Syndrome, a neurodevelopment disorder that falls along the autism spectrum, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Surprisingly, the diagnosis brought Boyle some clarity and empowerment: “I don’t see it as a barrier. Why should it be? Disability can be ability. There’s lots of people with similar problems. They go out and do successful jobs. So why can’t I do the same?”
Which explains why, no matter how much the outside world has changed for Susan Boyle – money, fame and family ties - on the inside, she remains the unassumingly strong woman who dares to dream the dream.
ABC News' Mary-Rose Abraham and Arthur Niemynski contributed to this episode.