Interview: Diana Vickers

Emma LeeShe may have graduated from Simon Cowell's X Factor pop finishing school, but chart topper Diana Vickers has more in common with Florence Welch than Mariah Carey. EMMA LEE spoke to her.Emma Lee

She may have graduated from Simon Cowell's X Factor pop finishing school, but chart topper Diana Vickers has more in common with Florence Welch than Mariah Carey. EMMA LEE speaks to her ahead of her show at the Waterfront.

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In spite of performing in front of a captive audience of millions week after week, TV talent shows have produced as many misses as hits.

While the likes of Girls Aloud, Leona Lewis, Will Young and JLS have gone on to become bona fide pop stars, others, like One True Voice, Michelle McManus, Steve Brookstein and Leon Jackson have found themselves in the bargain bin after the first flush of fame.

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When it comes to nurturing the talent it finds, in recent years, the X Factor has been taking a slightly different approach to developing the careers of its graduates.

After the now-traditional Christmas assault on the charts by the winner, rather than rush-releasing an album of Westlife cover versions in time for Mother's Day, artists now disappear for about six months and take time over honing their sound and image.

The winner of the 2006 series, Leona Lewis, emerged a fully-fledged pop diva - and 2008's winner Alexandra Burke and runners up JLS both returned and conquered the charts.

And now Diana Vickers is joining them. Even when she entered the X Factor she was doing things her own way. In an industry that likes to pigeonhole people she was labelled the 'kooky' one. When it came to her voice, a multi-octave Mariah Carey clone she was not.

As well as not being a ballad belter, she performed bare-foot and had a tendency to pull her hand into a shape that was dubbed 'the claw' (she says that was down to nerves and she rarely does it any more).

In conversation she name-checks the singer-songwriters Regina Spektor and rising star Ellie Goulding among the artists she admires (she also has a penchant for '1980s dance and Freddie Mercury') and musically has gone in totally the opposite direction to what you might expect from an X Factor ex - she's got more in common with Florence and the Machine powerhouse Florence Welch than Whitney and Britney.

But she has no regrets about braving the bearpit. Diana was reluctantly studying at an all girls' school in the north-west when she was persuaded to audition.

'I was studying for my A-levels, but school wasn't really for me, I couldn't be bothered sitting in classrooms all day. I wanted to do something creative in performing. I really, really wanted to be a singer, but I didn't know how to do it. My friend said: 'Diana, why don't you do X Factor?''

Suddenly she was starring on the biggest show on television. 'It changed my life a lot. It gave me a massive platform and helped me to get signed,' she says. 'You got to be around all these amazing people and it thickens your skin. If you've done the X Factor you can do anything,' she laughs.

Does she still see any of her X Factor contemporaries - or pop round to Cheryl's for tea? 'I'm really good friends with Ruth Lorenzo and still see JLS. They've done amazingly well,' she says.

After the show ended, she went on the road with the X Factor tour, then took a bit of a detour before releasing her album.

She caught the eye of writer Jim Cartwright, who was planning a West End revival of Little Voice, and soon found herself the leading lady for eight shows a week.

'It was really scary, and amazing,' Diana says.

'I did lots of acting in school plays and did GCSE and AS level drama. I was known as an actress in school and my sister's at drama school so it runs in the family. I loved it. It's really hard work, but I definitely want to do more of it,' she says.

Now she's got her first number one single under her belt too - Once, which was written by Norwich's hitmaker extraordinaire Cathy Dennis ('Cathy Dennis had already written the song, so she gave it to me. I didn't get to meet her, maybe one day I'll get the privilege,' Diana says).

And her debut album, Songs From the Tainted Cherry Tree, saw her team up with an array of writing partners including super producer Guy Sigsworth, Ellie Goulding, Nerina Pallot and Lightspeed Champion ('I met Lightspeed Champion at a book reading. It was all really random,' she says).

'It's such an exciting time,' she says. 'I was writing the album for ages and it's an incredible feeling that it's now out there.'

And now she's heading out on the road, calling at Norwich Waterfront on Sunday.

'I'm so excited about it. For me that's the best part of it, getting on stage and singing my own songs with my band behind me. It's the best feeling ever,' Diana says.

t Diana Vickers plays Norwich Waterfront on May 16.

t Songs From the Tainted Cherry Tree is out now.

t Further listening: