Sony Records had second thoughts about Susan Boyle after her defeat in the finale of  'Britain's Got Talent' and her subsequent stay in rehab, but they decided to stick with her -- a gamble that has clearly paid off.

Boyle sold 700,763 copies of her debut album "I Dreamed a Dream" in the United States, according to SoundScan. That means she has the greatest debut album on record this year in both America and Britain. By contrast, Kris Allen, the winner of the most recent "American Idol," sold only 80,000 copies of his new release.

The sales record also has earned Boyle the distinction of having the largest-ever debut for a female artist on the Billboard 200 in the Soundscan era.

"I Dreamed a Dream" has surpassed Eminem's total of 605,000 for his album earlier this year.

Sony's Columbia Records took a chance on Boyle, even after she had lost the final of "Britain's Got Talent" to a dance group. Steve Barnett, chairman of Sony's Columbia Records, saw her appeal clearly. "She was the underdog and people could relate to her," he told the Wall Street Journal.

However, they had some second thoughts.

The Journal stated that "Her surprise loss in an audience vote during the show's finale in May caused Sony to rethink some of the plans it had laid. And Ms. Boyle spent five days in a psychiatric hospital, treated for exhaustion."

But the company decided to stick with her. They relied on an unconventional approach, using unusual outlets such as CVS pharmacy to gauge audiewnce reactions — believing that her buyers did not match the usual profile of CD purchasers.

"The sense that we would market it like a traditional record went out the window weeks ago,"  Barnett told The Journal.