Pop Idol made stars of Will Young, Gareth Gates and Darius – and now the highest placed girl is set for planet pop. Fourth-placed Zoe Birkett, just 17 years of age, has released her debut single Treat Me Like A Lady. Her hopes for success are high.
After all, her manager is the ultra-successful music svengali Simon Fuller – the man responsible for Will, Gareth, S Club 7 and The Spice Girls. musicOMH caught up with Zoe at Fuller’s office for a chinwag…
Despite being the end of a long day of promotion for her single, 17-year-old Zoe Birkett is fizzing as she appears. A big white woolly hat emphasises her perfect tan, while subtle make-up adds to her striking features. Her words are delivered quickly and in a confident manner.
We kick off by discussing promotional activities, the fly in the ointment of success for many stars. This particular star, with her distinctive Geordie accent, is startlingly upbeat. “I love it – it is part of my job and I never get sick of it. It’s what I feel I was born for.”
Zoe remains upbeat and effervescent when we discuss the burgeoning debate about “manufactured” and “real” music. Best to get the touchy subject out of the way early, surely. But she’s fine with it – and she happily gives her view. “People will buy what they want to listen to,” she reasons. But it annoys her that “manufactured” stars are less respected than “real” musicians – she says they work as hard. “People don’t get to see the hard work that goes on. I’ve been dancing and singing for years – I’ve been at stage school since I was three years old.”
“Now it’s my chance to prove I’m a musician.” – Zoe Birkett
And it’s certainly true that, before Pop Idol swept her off her feet, Zoe had been to the Stagecoach school and the National Youth Theatre, and knew from an early age what she wanted to do. She explains that the TV talent contest was just a part of her quest to achieve stardom.
“People just see you on a TV show trying to get a record deal, and they just think you’re an overnight star. But I’ve been trying for years,” says Zoe, her energy coming through as she makes her point. “I auditioned to get into S Club 7 and got to the last 12. I used (Pop Idol) to get my record deal, and I got it. Now it’s my chance to prove I’m a musician,” she says.
Zoe is keen to tell all about her involvement in writing her album – she’s still working on it. “Every time I go into the studio I try to think of something different to do,” she says. “We get out the guitars, and I can play basic piano. I’ll sit down and write about the emotions I’m feeling that day.” But Zoe is also happy to use co-writers – like fellow Pop Idol contestant Sarah Whatmore, who co-wrote her new single.
On the subject of co-writers, Zoe is circumspect about her own skills at this early stage of her career. “I’ve only been around in this world for 17 years,” she says, “and they know a lot more than me about the industry. If they say something doesn’t sound right, I’ll totally take that on board. That’s sometimes how it works.” In any case, she doesn’t feel under pressure to achieve, but she does want the respect she thinks she deserves. “A lot of artists want money and fame,” says Zoe. “I want people to like me for being a northern girl who enjoys her job and does it well. I want respect.”
People who saw Zoe on the Pop Idol tour made her feel special, she says. The tour’s first gig, in front of 18,000 people, was a highlight for her. “I just felt the biggest buzz of my life – people screaming at you, wanting to touch you, singing along – it’s just like… WAOW! This is why I do it!” She goes on to say that she loves performing her current single in particular.
“Imagine me pinching Whitney Houston’s bum. I’d get shot!” – Zoe Birkett
Despite the success of the two tours Zoe’s been on, she doesn’t expect her first single to be a monster hit. “I’m a builder. I’d love the single to go top 10, then I’d get back into the studio, and the next one’d go higher.” She’s not convinced about the meaning of being at the top of the chart in any case. “If you go straight in at Number 1, where have you got to go? Down! If you get to Number 2 people call you a failure – what’s happened?” she asks.
Zoe’s touring buddies Will and Gareth have both been at the top of the chart, and she says she’s happy to collaborate with them – and Whitney Houston! “She’s my idol!” says Zoe of the pop diva, but she admits her first recorded collaboration is likely to be with Will or Gareth. “It’s more personal when you’re performing with friends – you can be cheeky,” she giggles. “Imagine me pinching Whitney Houston’s bum. I’d get shot!” She’s “best of friends” with Gareth – and she reveals that not only do they live near each other, but they’re writing together as well.
Zoe reckons her audience is wide and varied – “children, grandparents, people my age, adults, gays, everyone!” And someday she believes she could take them with her into an acting career. “I’ve been asked to star in a film! Acting’s not one of my strong points, but I’ll try anything,” she says.
Dazzled with her enthusiasm and obvious star appeal, it’s not hard to agree that, one way or another, Zoe Birkett will achieve the success she craves.
Zoe Birkett’s single Treat Me Like A Lady is out now through 19.
An abridged version of this interview appears on the BBC News website.