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Pop Idol is evil it's about the money.. the judges don't give a damn; TV winner Brenda tells Michelle: Don't change.

Byline: HEATHER GREENAWAY

SCOTLAND'S first TV pop idol last night backed lookalike Michelle McManus to win but warned she risked being exploited.

West End star Brenda Cochrane won telly talent show Opportunity Knocks with the largest-ever vote.

But Brenda, 42, slammed Pop Idol judges as ``vicious'' and the show ``evil'' for the way they treat wannabes.

She said: ``The judges make my blood boil. It's all I can do to stop myself going down there and gubbing them.

``It makes me so angry when I realise how vicious they are to the contestants. They can decimate someone's dreams without realising the heartache caused.

``Pop Idol is evil and it is all about the money. The judges don't give a damn about the kids. The majority are just in it to see how much money they can make out of it.''

Brenda is a huge fan of Glaswegian hopeful Michelle McManus but warned the image men would force her to change.

Like Michelle, Brenda's large framedidn't fit in with the music world's ideals.

She said: ``Michelle has real talent and I wish her all the best. You just have to look at the success of Alison Moyet and Aretha Franklin to realise being thin isn't everything.

``How dare Pete Waterman say she shouldn't be allowed into the nextround because she doesn't have the right image? What does a man who keeps model railways know about anything?

``If Michelle wants to lose weight to make herself happy and healthier then she should go for it but not because she is told to do so.

``People pay money to hear you sing not to look up your skirt. When I auditioned for Opportunity Knocks producer Stewart Morris told me he would put me on if I lost two stones.

``I told him: `If it's tits and ass you're looking for there are 200 people behind me waiting to audition.' Luckily, he found that amusing and let me go on.''

But Brenda admits she would never advise anyone to take the TV talent show route into showbiz and now wishes she'd never done Opportunity Knocks.

She said: ``It has been the bane of my life and with hindsight I wouldnever have got involved. Winning set me on a path that took 10 years to swing round because the hotshots of the music business tried to turn me into something I wasn't.''

Brenda, who played Mama Morton in the hit West End production of Chicago, says the pop world has always been full of plastic people with little personality.

Like the first Pop Idol winner Will Young and runner-up Gareth Gates, she was ordered to do cover versions.

She said: ``No onehadany intention of developing me as an artist as they knew they wouldn't make as much money out of original material.

``I quickly found the music businesswas a frightening place to be. Many of the people were like Tupperware plastic and see-through. They love you when you are up there but drop you like hot cakes when you're down.''

The larger-than-life diva lives in Uddingston, Lanarkshire, with fiance Kenny Wallace, 42, her former bank manager.

Despite her disillusionment with the music world, Brenda, whose album The Voice went gold selling more than 150,000 copies in the UK, has no regrets.

She said: ``Regret is a wasted and destructive emotion. All the mistakes along the wayhave brought me to where I am today and I am a very content.''

Despite not being a fan of the judges, Brenda, is behind all of the Scots who have made it into the Pop Idol final.

She said: ``Scotland has a lot of good talent which needs to be highlighted. I want to tell them all to be themselves. At the end of the day it's all you've got.''

Brenda is involved in her favourite project yet a one-woman show in honour of her father who died of lung cancer.

The piece, Just for Joe, devised by close friend Elaine C. Smith, tells Brenda's life story from teenage days in working men's clubs through Opportunity Knocks to her role in Chicago.

It begins a four-day run at the King'sTheatre, Glasgow, on Wednesday. Brenda said: ``Just for Joe is the best piece of work I haveeverdoneand at the moment I am the most satisfied I have ever been.

``Losing my father was the most traumatic thing that could have happened to me and it made me realise that life isn't about money or fame .

``Life is about family, friends and being able to go into your local butcher for a good blether.

``Grief is the price you pay for loving well. My dad's death made me take stock of my life I owe who I am today to him and my mother, Cathy.''

BRENDA

The larger-than-life Scottish singer was told to lose weight before appearing on Opportunity Knocks but refused. Now she is advising lookalike Michelle not to cave into pressure from the image makers who only want to promote stick-thin stars

MICHELLE

Glasgow girl Michelle says she knew the Pop Idol judges would have a go about her weight butinsists that is not the reason she has been dieting in the run-up to the final. She has shed 2 1 /2st already but claims: ``I made the choice to lose weight for myself.''
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Oct 19, 2003
Words:886
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