British pop singer Natasha Bedingfield catapulted to fame in 2005 with her infectious songs “Unwritten” and “These Words (I Love You, I Love You)” dominating Top 40 radio for months. Two years after its release, “Unwritten” lost out to Christina Aguilera’s “Ain’t No Other Man” for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance at the Grammys.
But Bedingfield is irrepressibly bubbly rather than bitter—and blessed with a clear, strong voice. (Talent obviously runs in the family—Natasha’s brother Daniel scored with the dance hits “Gotta Get Thru This” and “If You’re Not the One” in the early 2000s.)
This year she continues her refreshing blend of sunny pop and upbeat, blue-eyed soul with her third studio album, “Pocketful of Sunshine.” Bedingfield talked about teasing Simon Cowell at “American Idol” and touring with the mischievous Justin Timberlake.
How was your experience performing on Justin Timberlake’s FutureSex/LoveShow tour?
That was all around Europe, and it was just fantastic to be on tour with such a pro. Everywhere we went, Justin would say the local swear words onstage. He’d learn some of the language, normally something a bit dirty, and it would make people roar with laughter. And I learned to run around in high heels, and the stage was massive.
You started off singing Christian pop songs and gospel. How connected do you still feel to those genres?
I got a lot of musical background from living in London and learned about soul from church. I feel like I draw a lot of strength from having faith, and definitely church is the best place to learn about soul, with people all singing together from a deep place inside.
What inspired collaborations with artists such as Eve and Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine?
I love collaborating—it’s the main way that I write. All the songs on my album I co-write, so working with other artists ... you have two people coming together with totally different perspectives in life, and you end up with a song that wouldn’t have happened without the people that were in the room. It’s fascinating to me. I do have songs I write completely on my own, but I don’t play instruments very well, so mostly I write with people who play, so those are the ones that get heard. Like with “Unwritten,” I’d written a lot of it on my own, and then I got together with two of my friends and we completed the song together. The bones of it were already there, but then they brought chords into the picture.
Your interests and activities go far beyond just making music. What are you most proud of in that regard?
I got involved in my mum’s charity recently—my parents are into this amazing charity that helps kids around the world. Here I was doing my music career, and it’s just quite a selfish industry, promoting my product. And my mum’s helping people all over the world and it was amazing—I actually got a chance to go to India a year ago, and take my camera and film it and help wash kids and feed them. It was definitely a life-changing experience. I know that it’s a charity that really makes a difference, so that’s something to be proud of.
Your brother Daniel beat you to pop-chart success. Does he ever rub that in at all?
Well, he’s my older brother, so he always gets to do everything first. We really just take what we can get in this industry, so we really support each other. Sometimes we kind of tease each other a little bit, but not really. A bit of fun rough-and-tumble sometimes, but it’s all based in love.
Your song” Unwritten” figured prominently in “American Idol” in Season 5, when Ayla Brown sang it. Do you ever watch the show?
Yes, I actually went to “American Idol” about three weeks ago and sat in the audience. The contestants were waving at me from the stage, David Archuleta and Carli, and I think there’s some good talent this year. We were teasing Simon Cowell—it’s the first time I’ve ever seen him not wearing his shirt tucked in. He had a big white shirt over his trousers, and it looked like he’d lost weight. So I was asking him is it just because he’s not on TV that he looks like he’s lost weight—you know, they say the TV puts on inches, but he had lost weight.
Do you have a favorite contestant?
I think David Archuleta will win—he’s got a natural charisma. He’s a bit like what my brother was like when he was a kid.
How did it feel to receive a Grammy nomination last year?
It felt like recognition—it doesn’t really matter if you win or not. It’s just that thing of being on that bill of people who are nominated. I love what the Grammy foundation is all about, how it supports music. I came as a guest this year and sang at the after-party.
“Unwritten” has been used by Barack Obama for campaigning. How does that work—did they approach you about it?
I don’t think anyone has to approach artists to play their songs in their campaign—I mean, U2 is played by every candidate every year. When I heard that they were using my song, I was thrilled. I feel that the kind of person he is and how inspiring he is—the fact that he used my song is the ultimate compliment.
What’s your favorite “I’ve really made it now” moment?
I opened up some magazines recently and there’s this amazing advert in there that actually plays music—it plays my song. My Verizon advert—I’d never seen that in my life. Just pick up a Rolling Stone and you open it up and it plays my new song “Pocketful of Sunshine” like a greeting card, and that’s pretty cool. And the other day I was trying to get into a building in New York—you know security is really tight, and I didn’t have my passport, so I just opened up my Rolling Stone and said, “See the person in white? That’s me!” And they let me in.