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The Ballad of Susan Boyle: Has Life Killed the Dream?

06/01/2009 08:14 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"I had a dream my life would be
So different from the hell I'm living
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed."

-- from I Dream a Dream, Susan Boyle's chosen song for her audition and finale

Like millions of us, I followed the rags-to-riches story of the poor, plain Scottish woman who lived with her cat, then wowed the judges and the world with her glorious voice, and became a mega-star overnight via You Tube. She was expected to win the $160, 000 first prize on Britain's Got Talent, and perform for the Queen.

Didn't happen. After coming in second in the finals on Saturday night to a dance group called "Diversity," Susan Boyle was admitted to a private clinic in London on Sunday for an "emotional breakdown," according to Britain's Daily Mail.

This is a story that may yet have a happy ending. But life doesn't guarantee it, even if the tabloids do. Meanwhile, we can learn at least three lessons from this compelling event, and use them in our own lives:

Be wary of hype.
Just like on American Idol, lavish praise and overexposure don't mean all that much, except to the people making the hype: the pundits, judges and media that sell their stuff. The public may buy it at first, but eventually sees past it. Hype evades truth. Even when Boyle's second performance was flawed, the judges seemed to pass over it. Hype often becomes pernicious.

Risk means reward. Susan chose to play it safe, repeating the same song that she sang at her audition, "I Dream a Dream" from Les Miserables. A safe choice, and she sang it beautifully, but there was not much growth or excitement. "You'll Never Walk Alone" or some other blockbuster had been suggested by many fans, and she might have soared. The winning dance group on the other hand seemed to grow each time, with complex and risky programs.

Strive for the best, prepare for the worst. The winning dance team claims to have expected second place and was thrilled with the outcome. With all the hype it would be hard for fragile Susan Boyle to have expected to lose. She was gracious when she heard the outcome, but is now hospitalized for "exhaustion."

All three lessons come together. The time that Susan Boyle spent talking to fawning reporters, and fending off fans, could have been spent learning a new song, and adjusting to the realities of what was ahead.

The tale of Susan Boyle isn't over, and has taken on a newer and deeper dimension. It may indeed become an iconic moment in our collective consciousness, remembered for years in song and word. We'd like to think it will have a fairy-tale ending, but we don't yet know if her life will end up joyous or tragic, or somewhere in-between.

In the longer run, Susan Boyle will probably become known more for her story than her voice. Perhaps we have learned a lesson.