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Susan Boyle in ‘Talent’ final with stirring ‘Memory’

In a shimmering dress, matched to the tint of her newly styled hair, Susan Boyle brought genuine feeling to her rendition of “Memory,” from the musical “Cats,” on the first live semifinal of “Britain’s Got Talent.”

The long-anticipated reappearance of the 49-year-old Scottish woman was no let down, and it was no real surprise that she chose to perform “Memory,” a song associated with Elaine Paige, the singer she aspires to emulate.

Comfortable with her modest makeover, perhaps a little nervous, but ultimately buoyed by her confidence in the appeal of her powerful, pleasant voice, Boyle proved the star on Sunday night, earning the winning vote from the public and a place in next Saturday’s final of the variety competition.

Since she stunned audiences and judges with her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” during her audition for the show seven weeks ago, Boyle, dubbed by the media The Hairy Angel, has become a worldwide sensation. Her videos have earned millions of hits on YouTube, she’s appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” has been name-dropped on “The Simpsons,” and managed, with apparent common sense, to cope with the world’s press camped on her doorstep in Scotland. Her every move and mini-makeover have been chronicled almost daily.

So it was no surprise that she’s become a finalist, a decision she greeted with cheerfully exuberant struts and wiggles of her ample hips.

Interviewed afterward, Boyle said she was “pleasantly shocked” and her reaction wasn’t very clear “at the moment because I am completely numb.” She insisted she had modest expectations and thought she might have been put on “the big bus home.”

Although the trio of judges didn’t have any say in voting her through to the final, they had plenty to say about her performance. Piers Morgan called her a much needed “hope and inspiration” to a world sorely in need of such an uplift. Simon Cowell took the opportunity to apologize to her for so harshly prejudging her because of her appearance at the audition.

Boyle faced some stiff competition on the semifinal, which opened with another eclectic performance by Diversity, the street dancing group composed of friends and brothers, ranging in age from 13-25. The group earned the public’s second-place vote, but had to wait from the decision of the judges to learn whether they had beaten 10-year-old singer Natalie Okri, who had been dubbed by the press Baby Beyonce. Drawing out the suspense further, Morgan voted for Diversity, and then Amanda Holden chose Okri, leaving Cowell with the deciding vote. He plumped for Diversity, leaving loser Okri in tears.

Between Diversity’s opening act and Boyle’s concluding “Memory” — “Look, a new day has begun” — a bunch of oddities failed to advance. Gone are Nick Hell, a heavily pierced street performer who swung a pick axe from his earlobes and stuck an electric drill through his nose; Julia Naidenko, a beautiful Latvian belly dancer, the target of much ogling from the male judges; and Sue Son, the violinist, who had dropped her best friend and accompanist to compete solo. Also back to their day jobs are Darth Jackson, who combines his fanaticism for Michael Jackson and the “Star Wars” villain in a moon-walking act to “Thriller,” and Faces of Disco, a couple of shapely young men who disco danced in a series of celebrity masks, including those of President Obama and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Live semifinals — with eight more contestants facing off each night — continue Monday and Tuesday, and (after a break Wednesday so ITV can televise a major soccer final between Manchester United and Barcelona) continue Thursday and Friday. Then the 10 finalists will take to the stage for the Saturday night final, with the chance to win £100,000 and the right to perform before Queen Elizabeth II at the Royal Variety Show.

Boyle has become such an odds-on favorite, it’s barely worth betting on her, but Cowell insisted again Saturday that the competition is “not a one-horse race.”

Boyle agreed, noting in her post-performance interview that though for her it’s been “a life-changing experience,” when it comes to the final “it’s still an open competition.”

The odds makers have 11 year-old dancer Aidan Davis at 5/1 odds to pull an upset, and other hot favorites (along with Diversity) are another street dance group, Flawless, the Welsh singer Jamie Pugh, and the young singer Shaheen Jafargholi.

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