THE people of Darlington have got behind their Pop Idol as she moves closer to stardom.

Teenager Zoe Birkett made it to the final ten in the TV talent show and on Saturday night survived the first sudden-death round.

Her version of Whitney Houston's hit I Will Always Love You guaranteed her a place on this weekend's show and was praised by all three judges, including record producer Simon Cowell, who is famed for his caustic comments.

Zoe will face the TV audience again on Saturday, this time singing a Christmas song in a festive edition of the programme.

The Northern Echo is supporting Zoe's bid for stardom and today we are starting a campaign to get readers to vote for her on Saturday night.

Health minister and MP Alan Milburn, Darlington Football Club chairman George Reynolds and the Mayor of Darlington, Councillor Isobel Hartley, have added their support to the campaign.

On Saturday, the singer with the least audience votes will leave the show, while the others will be one step nearer their dream.

Zoe, a student at Carmel Technology College and a member of Stagecoach theatre school in Darlington, said: "I am really looking forward to this Saturday. It is all Christmas songs this time, which should be fun."

Although Zoe was originally second favourite to be voted off the show last weekend, her performance was so strong she was immediately sent through to the next round while three others, with fewer votes, had to sweat it out to see who was not going through.

Support for the show's youngest contender is high around her home town, with many shops displaying posters asking customers to vote for her.

But she has also received support from further afield. A letter addressed to Zoe Birkett, Pop Idol, Darlington, found its way to her.

The Northern Echo will be following Zoe's progress in the competition with a regular column on her performances.

She will be staying in London with the other competitors until she is either voted off or reaches the final, with two other singers, next year.

The winner will receive a recording contract with RCA and a helping hand on the road to pop stardom.

Anyone who would like to voice their support for our Pop Idol is asked to call (01325) 505071.