THE people of Darlington are getting right behind their very own Pop Idol.

Readers of The Northern Echo have continued to call in with messages of support for 16-year-old Zoe Birkett, who is down to the last nine in the ITV Pop Idol competition.

On Saturday, Zoe will sing a Christmas song in a bid to stay in the contest.

Although second favour-ite to be voted off the show last week, Zoe's strong performance has put her in the running to win.

A friend, Keith Brown, of Darlington, said: "We think she's a star - we have always thought that and we are sure she'll go far."

Mary Buckingham, from Bishop Auckland, has followed Zoe since the television show started.

She said: "I think she's brilliant, and she's got a great future whatever the result of the show."

Samantha Dickson, from Darlington, is keen to support the 16-year-old from her home town.

She said: "I support Zoe - she's the number one girl. I stay in every Saturday to watch her and I still tape it. Zoe has the X-factor and shines out the most."

Pat Harrison, also of Darlington, said: "I think she has done very well all the way through. She has an excellent voice and I hope she goes on to win."

The general opinion, summed up by Caroline Slater, from Darlington, is that, regardless of whether or not Zoe wins the show, she has a guaranteed future in the pop industry.

Ms Slater said: "I think it is absolutely fantastic. Hopefully she will win but, if not, she has done very well anyway. She wants to be proud of herself."

Messages of support for Zoe, who will be performing on Saturday night, can be phoned into The Northern Echo on (01325) 505071.