Simon Cowell, Susan Boyle

Simon Cowell, the British-accented and sometimes condescending talent judge of television’s mega-hit program “American Idol,” was stunned by the singing of a 47-year-old church volunteer who claims she’s never been kissed but whose amazing performance has catapulted her to sudden celebrity.

Cowell also serves as a talent judge across the Atlantic on “Britain’s Got Talent,” a singing competition similar to “American Idol.”

When contestant Susan Boyle, who lives alone with her cat and claims she’s never even been on a date, walked onto the “Britain’s Got Talent” stage Saturday night, her double chin, frumpy appearance and gray hair elicited snickers and rolled eyes from the crowd, accustomed to the show’s producers parading less-than-glamorous singers – like Boyle – as comic relief.

But when Boyle opened her mouth to sing, Cowell, the mocking audience and the nation’s television viewers were shocked.

Boyle’s performance can be seen here:

Singing “I Dreamed a Dream” from the musical “Les Miserables,” a song about a hard-luck woman whose years of misfortune have stolen both her youth and her dreams, Boyle brought the audience to tears and prompted a standing ovation.

The judges were no less gushing in their praise.

“Without a doubt, that was the biggest surprise I have had in three years of this show,” said talent judge Piers Morgan. Addressing Boyle, he added, “When you stood there with that cheeky grin … everyone was laughing at you. No one is laughing now; that was stunning. … I am reeling from shock.”

The lovely talent judge Amanda Holden saw in Boyle’s performance an admonition against a culture that too often judges people by their appearance.

“I am so thrilled, because I know that everybody was against you,” Holden told Boyle. “I honestly think that we were all being very cynical, and I think that’s the biggest wake-up call ever.”

“I’ve always wanted to perform before a large audience,” said Boyle before she had her opportunity on stage. “I’m going to make that audience rock.”

Boyle got her wish and delivered on her promise.

And her “large audience” is expanding. Her performance, uploaded to the video site YouTube, has logged over 3 million hits over the last three days, and the London Telegraph reports Boyle is now the favorite to win the competition.

Before Boyle sang, Cowell asked her – likely in parallel to her planned song, “I Dreamed a Dream” – what her dream was.

She answered, “I’m trying to be a professional singer.”

“And why hasn’t it worked out so far?” Cowell asked.

“I’ve never been given the chance before,” she said. “But here’s hoping it’ll change.”

And if history holds, it likely will. “American Idol” has produced some of the world’s top-selling recording artists over the past several years. The 2007 winner of “Britain’s Got Talent,” a mobile phone salesman named Paul Potts, experienced similar success, notching a No. 1 album in 15 countries around the world.

“Susan Boyle,” concluded Cowell after her performance, announcing the decision of the three-judge panel, “you can go back to the village with your head held high. It’s three yeses.”

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