DARLINGTON'S Zoe Birkett is belting it out in Rock of Ages in the region this week.

She is taking one of the lead roles in the musical, which is on a UK tour and comes to Sunderland Empire on July 23. The Consett-born singer, who grew up in Darlington and shot to fame on Pop Idol in 2002, plays Justice in the jukebox musical built around classic rock songs from the 1980s. She tells us about the role and how she's looking forward to coming home.

What made you want to be involved with Rock of Ages?

Initially it was because I love the soundtrack. I remember when it was in the the West End, there was such a buzz about it. The character I play was on my to-do list. It's a jukebox musical set in the 80s that is designed to do one thing - to give you a good time. In a nutshell, it is a love story between Drew and Sherrie, Drew being a wannabe rockstar and Sherrie being a wannabe actress who fall in love. They meet some fantastic characters along their journey.

Do you have a favourite song you look forward to performing?

Don't Stop Believing is the finale and always goes down excellently in every venue. The audience are always on their feet begging us for more. My favourite song is Any Way You Want It, because I play Justice and it's her big number in the Venus Strip Club. She gets to show off her kingdom.

What was your first experience of musical theatre?

Aged seven, I was chosen to be one of the children in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat , I fell in love with the musical and that's when I fell in love with musical theatre.

Do you have a role you'd love to play in the future?

Many, but I am not going to jinx myself by telling you what they are! As long as it's something fabulous, charismatic and with an edge of diva, I'm in.

Is touring something you enjoy?

I haven't actually toured that much. I did The Bodyguard back in 2014 and What A Feeling in 2007, so it has been quite a while. I do love touring. It gives me an opportunity to perform and meet all the people who have supported me along the way who possibly can't make it to the West End or to one of my gigs.

Have you ever been given a piece of advice that has stuck with you?

Yes. When I was in Pop Idol, when I came out of the competition, I got offered a lot of wonderful opportunities and was so happy to be asked and grateful – being only 16 – that I always said I would do things for free. I remember having a conversation with Nicki Chapman, my manager and Pop Idol judge at the time, who gave me a massive cuddle and said, "Darling, you are now a business." - the best advice I ever got.

What can audiences expect when they come to see you in Rock of Ages?

Lots of unreal vocals,unreal bodies, a killer live band and an epic show. I actually wish I could sit in the audience one time to watch it!

What shows have you performed in at the Sunderland Empire?

I was last in Sunderland with the Bodyguard musical playing the lead role of Rachael Marron (Whitney Houston). It was such a dream role for me, the show was breathtaking with lots of pinch-me moments.

How do you feel about performing near your home-town?

It's great to be up North on home turf. I get to commute from my northern home to Sunderland, so will have all of the family up with me, including my daughter. I have lots of family and friends coming along on the Wednesday night, so that will be an absolute mad one. They're very noisy!

Are there any home comforts you are looking forward to?

Definitely being around my family will be the main thing. I've been on tour for a full year now, so getting to spend some time with them will be the best. They've been my main supporters over the years and I can't wait to give them all a cuddle.

  • Rock of Ages, Sunderland Empire, July 23-27. Box office: 0844 84702499; atgtickets.com