SIXTEEN-YEAR-OLD Karen Harding sang her heart out to win the first Music Means Life final.

The X Factor-style event, which attracted hundreds of fans to the Rainton Meadow Arena in Durham City, was the first teen talent contest of its kind and was held in aid of the new teenage cancer unit at the Royal Victoria Infirmary, in Newcastle.

Gary Thompson, the North- East music mogul who launched the competition last year, was so impressed by the response - 3,000 acts entered - that he plans to make it an annual event.

Karen, who lives in Consett, County Durham, and is a student at the town's Riverside Community Technology College, won over the audience and judges on Thursday night with her powerful performance.

The ambitious teenager, who has been singing in public since she was seven, won a trophy, a recording contract for an album and a management deal.

"This is what I have always wanted to do. It's wonderful. I can hardly believe it," said Karen, who was supported by her 18- year-old brother, Philip, mother Nita and friends.

"I feel this will open many doors for me. I can't wait to record my first album."

Mr Thompson said: "I think this young lady has a big career ahead and I can't wait to get into the studio and record her album."

Simon Davies, chief executive of the Teenage Cancer Trust, said: "Music Means Life has been all about young talent in the North-East raising the profile of the Teenage Cancer Trust and essential funds for our new unit, which is being built right now."

Second place went to Amber Glover, 17, from Sunderland.

In joint third was Joe McElderry, from South Shields, South Tyneside, and the only band to get through on the night, Definitive - duo Rachel Ward, 16, from Sunderland, and Sally Carr, 17, from Hartlepool.

Dire Straits' Alan Clark, actor Tim Healy an Stocksfield singer Jamie Squire bought the house down with a half hour jamming