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She dreamed a dream - and came in second

Susan Boyle, singer and reality-show phenom, had been the front-runner. Don't cry for her yet.

LONDON - She gave a final curtsy, a shimmy of her hips, and walked off stage, leaving the winners to perform an encore.

But it's unlikely that finishing second on Britain's Got Talent last night to a dance troupe called Diversity will be the end of Susan Boyle's showbiz dream.

The 48-year-old Scottish church volunteer became an Internet phenomenon after she auditioned for the television talent show, her show-stopping voice combining with her frumpy appearance to make her a must-see on YouTube.

For yesterday's final, she returned to the song that made her famous: "I Dreamed a Dream" from the musical Les Miserables.

She wore a glamorous but modest sparkly floor-length dress, and her once-gray frizzy hair was a soft-brown halo.

She appeared more polished and animated than in previous performances, but seemed uncomfortable during banter with the judges after her song. One of the judges, Simon Cowell, said that Boyle had had a rough brush with fame, but that she was "a nice, shy person who wants a break."

The week leading up to yesterday's performance had been tumultuous for Boyle. She lost her cool during a confrontation with two reporters, and the police intervened. Another contest judge, Piers Morgan, said Boyle had contemplated pulling out of the program to soothe her frazzled nerves.

"A lot of people said you shouldn't even be in this competition, that you weren't equipped to deal with it," Cowell told Boyle after her performance yesterday. "I totally disagree with that.

"You had the guts to come back here and face your critics, and you beat them."

Asked about her career plans after the show, Boyle told broadcaster ITV that she hoped to get an album out and would "just play it by ear."

Millions tuned in to the live program and voted by telephone afterward.

Boyle's hometown of Blackburn, Scotland - a working-class village about 10 miles west of Edinburgh - rallied around her, stringing up signs declaring their support.

Her defeat was greeted with shouts of "no" and gasps of disbelief at the Happy Valley Hotel, where neighbors and friends had gathered to watch the program.

"She lost because people didn't bother voting for her because they thought she was going to win it," Gordon Mackenzie, 21, lamented. "I didn't vote for her, because I thought everyone else would."

Boyle was up against a host of everyman acts determined to find stardom on reality television, including a 12-year-old whose voice was compared to Michael Jackson's, an 11-year-old body-popping dancer, and a grandfather-granddaughter singing duo.

The winning group, Diversity, is a 10-person dance troupe ranging in age from 12 to 25. The act won praise throughout the competition, but wasn't seen as the front-runner. The troupe's victory earned it 100,000 pounds ($159,000) and the right to perform for Queen Elizabeth II at the Royal Variety Show in December.

It was Boyle who had always been expected to win, and British bookmaker William Hill offered 10-11 odds yesterday on her victory. The betting service briefly lowered its odds when the reports of erratic behavior seemed to show "there might be a chink in her armor," according to spokesman Rupert Adams. But he said William Hill "got absolutely hammered" with bets and quickly went back to predicting a Boyle victory.

Boyle's entree last month into the limelight has been viewed millions of times, the fifth-most-watched clip ever on YouTube. The moment became reality-show history.

She introduced herself on camera as someone who lived alone with her cat, Pebbles - neighbors and relatives were taking turns looking after the feline while Boyle was in London for the show - and who had never been kissed.

Those details combined with her matronly appearance sent the audience into titters when she walked on stage. But then she began to sing. And as Boyle hit a high note at the end of her song's first line, Cowell's eyebrows rose along with her voice, and the audience rose to its feet.