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Oh, SuBo! Whatever dream this hip-swiveling, cat-treasuring (hi, Pebbles) church worker dreamed, she can’t have imagined it would be fulfilled quite like this.

The 48-year-old small-town Scottish spinster turned viral summer sensation has now parlayed what could easily have been fleeting internet fame—wherefore art thou, Tay Zonday?—into one of the most astonishing success stories of the year.

All the R-rated AMA displays, full-court press blitzes and bedazzled onesies in the world couldn’t push the likes of Rihanna, Glambert and Gaga even close to Boyle’s winning Billboard numbers; her 701,000-copy victory (and additional 410,000 sold in the U.K.) effectively crushed her younger, more provocative peers. She even beat 2009’s standing first-week-sales record holder, an expressive, opinionated young lad named Eminem.

So how did she do it? For one, as much as people may have first encountered Boyle on their computer screens, they didn’t necessarily dip back into the digital marketplace to buy it; instead, they turned to less traditional outlets like Walgreens and QVC (though pre-order sales were also strong on Amazon.com)—and they went in for the full album, not just a grab-bag of singles or ringtones.

Steve Barnett, chairman of her label Columbia Records, told the New York Times that only about 39,000 of Boyle’s total sales were through iTunes; compare that to the number of individual digital tracks sold in 2008 by Rihanna (9.9 million) Lady Gaga (11.1 million), or Taylor Swift (9.98 million).

SuBo’s buyers are likely the same audience that made Josh Groban’s Christmas album the no. 1 seller of 2007, sending it to five-times platinum only weeks after its October release, and goosed sales for crooner Michael Buble’s recent chart-topper Crazy Love; all three albums are heavy on well-loved standards, and easy on the type of ears that eschew the flagrant, frantic pop sounds of La Gaga, et al.

What are your theories, readers? Is it Boyle’s backstory, or her warbling mezzo soprano? Her cathedral-ready hymnals or her Rolling Stones balladry? Or is just, as my colleague Michael Slezak says, that “like a candle or a tie, the Susan Boyle CD is a perfectly pleasant, unthreatening holiday gift for the hard-to-shop-for relative”?

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