Mention the name Diana Vickers on the DiS forum boards and you're likely to find yourself chased off the site far away into the sunset. If you're lucky. Indeed any whiff of artists associated with reality television shows such as The X Factor or Britain's Got Talent here would normally be met with derision. Which at times has to be said is a tad unfair. Both Will Young and Girls Aloud have attained favourable mentions both here and in other sections of the music media, and while Simon Cowell's name continues to represent the antithesis of everything moral and credible within the music industry, not all of his proteges turn into the devil incarnate.
One of those, Ms Vickers, finished fourth in the 2008 series of The X Factor which normally means "cheery bye bye" as far as a music career is concerned while a lifetime of flipping burgers and sweeping floors beckons. However, with her angelic northern charm and kooky demeanour, Diana Vickers wasn't like any other X Factor puppet. Regularly appearing on the show singing songs by the likes of Snow Patrol, Coldplay and REM, she announced her intentions as a budding singer/songwriter from day one, something which made Cowell scowl while the likes of Gary Barlow, Ellie Goulding, Lightspeed Champion and Patrick Wolf formed an orderly queue to work alongside her.
Fast forward to summer 2010 and with a gold selling number one album Songs From The Tainted Cherry Tree under her belt, not to mention a number one single ('Once') and a budding acting career that earned her rave reviews last year for her performance in 'The Rise And Fall Of Little Voice', it's easy to see why at just nineteen years of age, Diana Vickers is feeling on top of the world right now. She's also playing numerous festival slots this summer, and DiS caught up with her in Leicester after her show at Summer Sundae.
DiS: You worked with Ellie Goulding, Lightspeed Champion, Nerina Pallot, Guy Sigsworth (Bjork, Madonna, Britney Spears collaborator among others) and Starsmith on your debut album Songs From The Tainted Cherry Tree. That must have been a pretty surreal experience?
Diana Vickers: I love Nerina, she's awesome, whereas Guy is just so passionate about music. It's the same with Lightspeed Champion. When he's in a recording studio he reminds me of a mad professor in a science laboratory, just fascinating to watch. Ellie I got to know really well just before she got signed, so it was great to snatch her just before she went off gallivanting round the world. It was an amazing experience making the album with so many great people, and I'd like to think its really taught me a lot. I mean, I've already started writing for the second album and it's a lot more independent, just me...
DiS: With so many people involved, how did the songwriting process work on the album?
DV: I had a bunch of ideas and at the time was working with this amazing producer called Chris Braide, and we developed a really great bond. He would always listen to my ideas, and even if he didn't agree with everything I said gave me some fantastic advice which I know will benefit me for the future. Sometimes I'd be sat there without a clue what to write about and Chris would just tap away at his keyboard and we'd have the skeleton for a melody. Other times we'd just both bring different elements to the table and build a song around it all.
Diana Vickers - Once
DiS: It's interesting that you've gone down the songwriting route so early, as it is probably fair to say you were anything but the typical kind of contestant normally associated with a show such as The X Factor.
DV: Everyone says that and I'm not really sure why to be honest? When I was on that show there was never a consciously manufactured decision for me to sing certain songs. It was more about finding songs that suited my voice best and what music I associated with; for example, I don't think you should attempt to sing Whitney (Houston) on a show like that if you're not a fan or can't hit the notes that she does.
DiS: Because of the stigma attached to a show like that, do you have any regrets about doing it?
DV: Oh God, no! I think it's even more of a challenge now to continue making music in my own right after being on that show. I mean, I had no connections whatsoever. I'm just a smalltown Lancashire lass from Blackburn who thought London was on another planet! I'd only been there once before so when I was based there for the entire duration of that show it felt weird because I didn't know anybody. All of my other friends had gone off to University so music was the only way for me really, and despite the whole tag of being an X Factor contestant it's actually given me a kick up the backside to work that bit harder. I'll always be grateful to that show for giving me the platform to make music but I want to detach myself from it and become a credible artist of my own doing.
DiS: Where are you based at this moment in time?
DV: London. I've been there for about a year-and-a-half now.
DiS: What sort of reception do you get when you go back to Blackburn?
DV: Nothing out of the ordinary really. I don't get mobbed or anything like that. In fact it's probably the place where that kind of thing is least likely to happen! I have the same group of friends and my ex-workmates from Marks & Spencers. My mum still works there actually so whenever I turn up people say "Oh, there's Vickers!" and carry on with what they were doing.
DiS: Would you say the whole experience has changed your perception of music, in a commercial or mainstream sense at least?
DV: Yeah, definitely. I mean I love pop music, and it is the genre of music I want to be in, but at the same time I listen to all different kinds of music, and when I write I try to experiment with other styles and ideas away from the standard pop format. Anyone who's heard Songs From The Cherry Tree will be surprised by some of the sounds on the follow-up record. I'd like to think I've taken my songs in various directions you wouldn't normally expect from a typical pop artist.
DiS: Obviously there have been criticisms from certain sections of the media, not to mention intrusions on your private life. What has been your worst experience since becoming a celebrity?
DV: It's hard to say really. I mean fame can be a bitch sometimes like when you're having a quiet night out with family and friends and people think they can just do or say what they want because you've been on television. It's the same with relationships, trying to keep them private and personal. On the upside I do get to go to some amazing premieres and parties but at the same time it can be a very fickle industry to be in and the people who you think are on your side one minute can suddenly turn against you.
Diana Vickers - The Boy Who Murdered Love
DiS: The music press for example. Do you pay much attention to reviews of your records or live performances?
DV: I try not to but then again I guess it depends. Sometimes it's good to take constructive criticism on board. I mean, if someone's blatantly just gone out of their way to rip me to shreds then I find it difficult to take them seriously, you know, be objective, find a balance somewhere. Everyone's entitled to their opinion but that's just what it is - one person's opinion.
DiS: I guess people ask you this all the time but what was it like working with Simon Cowell?
DV: From the perspective of a sixteen-year-old girl walking into that audition for the first time and being faced with Simon and the other judges was a really daunting experience! It was so overwhelming and you have to learn to stand on your own two feet straight away otherwise its a difficult environment to survive in. I do like Simon, I mean he is a businessman and a very successful one at that. He's very intelligent and all the time I was on X Factor he taught me a lot. I don't have anything to do with him any more because I'm not signed to his label but I admire him for where he came from and what he's achieved.
DiS: There was a story going round a couple of years ago that Gary Barlow wanted to sign you to his label Future Records and Simon Cowell blocked it.
DV: I don't really know the full story behind that. Any contractual issues I leave to my management. I heard he was interested in working with me a while ago but...?
DiS: You have worked with Mark Owen since then though?
DV: That's right yeah. Mark wrote 'Sunlight' for me when I was performing in the West End as 'Little Voice'. He was one of the first contacts I made outside of the X Factor via my manager Andy (Bernstein).
DiS: Do you still keep in touch with any of the people who were on X Factor with you?
DV: I supported JLS on their arena tour recently, and Ruth Lorenzo who was on the live shows with me is my best friend. I still speak to Cheryl (Cole) and Dannii (Minogue) on occasions and then some of the backroom staff and dancers I still socialise with regularly so, yeah.
DiS: What was the last album you bought?
DV: That was actually yesterday. The Winter Of Mixed Drinks by Frightened Rabbit.
DiS: They're playing the Drowned In Sound stage here tomorrow (Sunday) night.
DV: Are they really? Nooo. I'm meant to be doing this Rock FM event in Blackpool. I wonder if we could catch them on our way back to London? What time are they on?
DV: That might be doable then. I saw them in Ibiza Rocks recently and they were absolutely phenomenal! I was meant to go and watch The Kooks and they were supporting, and was pleasantly surprised to the point of being blown away. Before that the last record I bought would have been either Odd Blood by Yeasayer or Night Work by Scissor Sisters.
DiS: Some interesting records there. I've also read other interviews where you've cited The Sundays and The Cranberries as being major influences. I guess if a teenage fan of yours gets to hear about a band like that because you've talked about them it's a pretty heartwarming achievement.
DV: I've never looked at it like that to be honest. I love those two bands but I really do like a lot of different types of music. When we were in Ibiza I spent a lot of the time listening to cutting edge dance stuff, and then after we went to Miami and I was listening to electro out there.
DiS: That must be a surreal chain of events - Blackburn to Ibiza to Miami in quick succession?
DV: It is so crazy! I never thought I'd ever be able to afford to go to America and its somewhere I'd always dreamt of going, so to actually get flown over there by the record label is just totally incredible! It can be quite overwhelming and a lot to take in, but at the same time it might be all over for me this time next year so I'm just going to appreciate it while I can.
DiS: So will you be sticking around for the rest of today's festival?
DV: No. I've barely had any sleep for the past twenty-four hours and I've got two shows tomorrow, the one in Blackpool and another in Liverpool so we're going to be heading off shortly.
DiS: It must be a massive strain playing two shows in one day? How do you keep your vocal chords in such good shape?
DV: I've learnt to look after myself. Water and a mix of honey & lemon is the key to it, plus a good night's sleep. I am quite disciplined when it comes to that; the other night everyone was in the bar drinking cocktails and partying until the early hours whereas I was sat in my room drinking loads of water making sure I was in good shape for the next show.
DiS: You scored a massive hit with your first single 'Once', that in some ways it must be difficult to try and replicate that level of success. Do you see bigger and better things to come?
DV: Yeah definitely. 'Once' is a great pop song but I'm confident I've got much better songs than that on the next album.
DiS: So, if you had a crystal ball, what would the future hold for Diana Vickers?
DV: At this moment in time I just want to keep writing and hopefully continue touring and playing live to as many people as possible. Beyond that I'd love to star in a film, eventually move to Paris...the usual kind of things a girl of my age would want I suppose!
Diana Vickers can be seen performing live at the following venues:
8 Manchester Academy 2
9 Leamington Spa Assembly Rooms
12 London Koko
13 Newcastle Academy
14 Glasgow ABC
15 Dublin Academy