'America's Got Talent' seeks the next Susan Boyle

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When NBC's all-ages, all-skills competition "America's Got Talent" returns for a fourth season Tuesday, it has a high bar to clear, one stretching all the way across the Atlantic.

Thanks to the online video site YouTube.com, just about anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can view the contestants in the show's U.K. sibling, " Britain's Got Talent." In June 2007, shy, unprepossessing Welsh mobile-phone salesman Paul Potts took the world by storm with his stirring rendition of the operatic aria "Nessun Dorma."

Then, America fired back with insurance salesman Neal E. Boyd, who came on "America's Got Talent" last summer and wowed the crowd with his own rendition of the Puccini classic. Like Potts, he went on to win the competition.

In April, Susan Boyle, an unstylish, 47-year-old Scotswoman with frizzy hair, a wicked wit and a knockout voice, set the world afire with her rousing and surprising audition for "BGT," singing "I Dreamed a Dream" from " Les Miserables."

Boyle made it to the finals, where she performed the song again (with a somewhat more polished look). She may have come in second to a dance troupe, but she remains first in the hearts of millions around the world - and reportedly brought a tear to the eye of tough-minded "BGT" and "American Idol" judge Simon Cowell (an off-camera executive producer on "AGT").

Cowell wasn't the only one moved by the performance, according to fellow "BGT" judge Piers Morgan, who's also on "America's Got Talent" along with judges Sharon Osbourne and David Hasselhoff and host Nick Cannon.

"At the time," Morgan says, "I was getting quite emotional, and that's never happened to me before on any of these shows."

Come on, America!

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Of course, now it's up to the American show to meet that standard.

"It is," Morgan says, "and it's a big challenge for 'America's Got Talent' to try to find acts which have the same impact. We've had some very good ones so far in the American one. It's going to be a big season."


If you think Boyle, a middle-age, unemployed church volunteer who lives alone with her cat, Pebbles, is an unlikely candidate for superstardom, Morgan promises to introduce NBC viewers to someone with an even more unusual story.


"We've had two extraordinary moments," Morgan says. "One was a chicken hunter, a guy called Kevin, who came on, said he'd caught 8,000 chickens himself in one night, clutching four at a go in one hand.

"We were all laughing at him. He was laughing, baseball cap the wrong way around, and he had on a checked farmer shirt. 'What are you going to do?' 'I'm going to sing for you a bit of Garth Brooks.'

"Then, he sits down, gets a guitar, starts to sing Garth Brooks, and within about half a minute, the audience was starting to cry. He had the most powerful, emotional voice I've seen on 'America's Got Talent' in a long time. Amazing. So he has the potential to be a Susan Boyle."

Also, Morgan says, there are three children who sang to their comatose mother for months every day in the hospital.

"Everybody was incredibly moved by them," he says, "and then the mother came out in a wheelchair. It was unbelievable. She began to speak about how proud she was of her kids. By then, Sharon was a weeping mess, and the audience were a weeping mess."

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Talk about success

And, of course, it's not just singers that come out of "America's Got Talent." The season two winner, ventriloquist Terry Fator, silenced the naysayers who believed the traditional variety act was dead.

"Terry Fator changed a lot of things," Morgan said, "when he signed a $100 million contract in Vegas, biggest contract on the Strip. He's getting paid more than Elton John.

"Unbelievable, for an act he's been doing for 30 years and never earned more than 300 bucks a night. When people saw that, we got so many more people coming out of the woodwork. The talent level on 'AGT' this summer has been through the roof."

Will Potts or Boyle make a guest appearance on "America's Got Talent?" Morgan says, "Love them to. I think they're looking to put Susan on 'AGT' this summer in some way. It'd be brilliant. So they should - she's a standard-bearer for the British.

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"I love the whole idea of the competition now between the Brits and the Americans over this. Britain has shown the world we've got talent. Come on, America. On the back of the British success, the whole competition is good for ratings. Americans are going to tune in to see, 'Have we got our own Susan Boyle?' It's going to be exciting. It's what I would do."

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