Your debut album was never released. What happened?
"The album was all finished and ready to go, we'd released the first two singles and we couldn't decide on a third single. Then the song 'Toxic' came through the door and, for like two days, I was going to do it. But then obviously Britney got it and I was like, 'You know what, I want to go and write and see what I come up with myself'."
Did you ever actually record 'Toxic'?
"No. I heard the demo and I could tell it was a phenomenal song, and there was talk of me recording it, but it never actually got that far. It was a bit bad really, because I just sort of disappeared. I wasn't dropped and Simon [Fuller], my manager, has stuck by me, which is incredibly rare. My first album was a great album but I just kind of moved away from it and it started to date."
Where did you disappear to?
"I just travelled all over the place so I could develop my writing. At first I was writing good songs but nothing that was really me. It was almost like I was thinking, 'I'll do what that female artist is doing'. I ended up doing this gig at the Royal Albert Hall in front of the whole music industry and my mike wasn't switched on, which was quite humiliating! I didn't run off stage crying and I carried on singing, but at that point I did think, 'Am I over? Is this it?' But the next day I had quite a few calls from people wanting to work with me, including some of the people who worked on the album."
While you were away honing your songwriting skills, did you ever worry you might not record again?
"It was a huge risk that I took, and time just kind of went by. I ended up doing it the old-fashioned way and the way I actually wanted to do it before I was on a TV show. It's been a long, interesting journey, but I only really became more creative when I ran out of money and I got my heart broken. The album is quite philosophical and sophisticated and even though there's not a love song on there, it's quite optimistic."
How will people react to it, do you think?
"I hope that people will relate to it. The album is full of beautiful, classic-sounding songs that won't date because everything on there is quite real. I've been involved in terms of melody, lyrics and creating the sound I wanted for the album, which is lots of piano and real strings."
You were marketed in quite a sexy way first time around. Did you like that?
"No. When you're 19 and you don't know the industry, you're a little bit naive. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that kind of thing, but it wasn't really me. It can take over what you're actually doing in terms of credibility, so that's why I've moved away from it. That was then, this is now. I'm older and wiser... I think!"
Looking back at Pop Idol, do you have any regrets?
"No, I can't regret it because it's a part of my history. It's a great way to be recognised and that's why I went on the show in the first place. They actually asked me to go back on the show for the last ten after Rik [Waller] dropped out, but I turned it down. I kinda had the feeling that a boy would win and I felt the need to go away and do my own thing."
If you didn't have a deal now, would you appear on The X Factor?
"No! I didn't realise how big Pop Idol would be and I think the shows get bigger every year. The show's probably become bigger than the acts themselves. It's great for some people, depending on what they want to do, but it wouldn't work for me now."
'Smile' by Sarah Whatmore is out now. The album, Time To Think, follows early next year.