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‘Unwritten’ songstress sneaks up the charts

British singer Bedingfield’s successful formula: Substance, not image
/ Source: The Associated Press

With all the former pop princesses spending more time in the tabloids than on the charts (Britney trying to tame Kevin, Christina celebrating a new marriage, Jessica ending hers and Pink picking fights with all the aforementioned), it's easy to see how the story of a scandal-free female singer/songwriter could get lost in the shuffle.

But while the paparazzi weren't looking, Natasha Bedingfield's unpretentious lyrics and persona have been winning her fans on both sides of the Atlantic.

After a long day of promoting her debut album, "Unwritten," the disarming 24-year-old Bedingfield is trying to keep it together despite obvious hunger and sleep deprivation. "You know when girls get grumpy 'cause they haven't eaten?" she abruptly asks. "That's me, forgive me!"

It's that quirkiness and honesty that give personality to Bedingfield's music — a cross between Nelly Furtado and Alanis Morissette minus the pretense, infused with the Brit-pop soul of Joss Stone. Her unique sound and the genuine respect she has for her craft help to separate her from the pack. "It can't be all about image," the comely blonde insists. "It's important for me that I put really good content in what I'm doing."

Listeners are clearly fond of the record's content. The disc is certified gold and has been getting steady radio play since its release last summer. Paul "Cubby" Bryant, music director and afternoon personality for New York pop station Z100, immediately knew he'd found something special with Bedingfield's first top-10 hit. "When I first heard `These Words,'" he proclaims, "I was like, wow, this song is all hook, which is textbook what you need for a hit song ... It's impossible for this to not be a hit."

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Bedingfield was already a huge star in her native England, where "Unwritten" went triple platinum and where her story began.

Leaving home at 18 to live with her brother (budding pop singer Daniel Bedingfield), the college student spent most of her free time writing. "I would get together with (my friends) after school and just write and write and write," she recalls. She dropped out of school and got a temp job so she could pursue music full-time.

Once her big brother broke, her chances of success greatly improved. "I had the same friends as him and I lived with him, so I'd come home and Lionel Ritchie (would be) in the living room writing with him," she remembers. "It gave me sort of an inside view and I clicked with (music label) BMG and just went on from there."

But as much as she loved having her sibling alongside her, she wasn't thrilled about the inevitable comparisons. "In some ways, it can make it harder 'cause everyone's expecting and going, are you gonna live up to how good your brother is?"

That doesn't mean the Bedingfields don't see how lucky they are to be in this unique situation together (they recently made it into the Guinness Book of World Records as the only brother and sister to have solo number-ones in United Kingdom chart history) and have fun with it.

"We tease each other," she laughs. "And when I first released my album, I got a huge poster of me and stuck it on his wall so that the first thing he sees when he walks into the house is me. It was like, look big brother, look what happens! When the cat's away the mice will play!"

Bedingfield's latest song, the uninhibited and inspirational "Unwritten," is the first number-one pop single in America for a solo British woman since Kim Wilde's "You Keep Me Hangin' On" in 1987. It will likely stick around for a while, as it is this year's hands-down favorite for most-played tune during graduation season. In the tradition of Desree's inescapable "You Gotta Be" and R. Kelly's anthemic "I Believe I Can Fly," Bedingfield clearly has the chops to stay perched on top of the charts.

And she's confident more good things lie ahead.

"The whole reason I called my first album 'Unwritten' is because I feel like the rest is still unwritten, and this is just the beginning," she says. "I haven't hit my peak yet."