English pop starlet Cheryl Cole has been making a lot of stateside headlines lately — she’s been romantically linked to Dancing With the Stars pro Derek Hough, was selected as a judge (alongside music moguls Simon Cowell and Antonio “L.A.” Reid) on FOX’s upcoming American version of singing competition The X Factor, and has been slated to receive the Glee treatment due to creator Ryan Murphy’s obsession with her single, “Parachute.” But who is the beauty who has been called “Britain’s sweetheart”?
Cheryl Cole, born Cheryl Tweedy and affectionately christened “Chezza” by the British media, first rose to fame as a member of pop supergroup Girls Aloud, who were themselves formed on the reality series Popstars: The Rivals. But unlike their more forgettable reality-group counterparts, Girls Aloud captivated English audiences with their genre-busting, futuristic pop. Their debut single, “Sound of the Underground,” drew upon surf rock, drum & bass, and house music, and future singles like “No Good Advice”, “Biology,” and “Call the Shots” were equally well-received by critics and audiences alike. Acclaimed music journalist Peter Robinson wrote that “Call the Shots” was “the greatest song of the 21st century,” and their greatest hits compilation, The Sound of Girls Aloud, even received a rare 8.5 rating from American indie rock bible Pitchfork, who called their songs “patchwork assemblages of the best bits of a hundred fantasy pop songs, smoothly and effortlessly changing gears at a moment's notice.”
But Cheryl’s personal life was even more fascinating to the international press. In 2003, she made headlines following an altercation with a nightclub employee, at whom Cheryl allegedly yelled ethnic slurs. (Cheryl denied using racially abusive language; although she was eventually convicted of “assault occasioning actual bodily harm,” she was cleared of racially aggravated assault.) In 2006, she married English footballer Ashley Cole, and the couple quickly became tabloid staples.
But their public image was tarnished by rumors of infidelity that persisted over the next several years, culminating in 2010, when several women sold their stories to the press, alleging that they’d had extramarital affairs with Ashley Cole. In February 2010, Cheryl and Ashley announced that they were separating — for good.
Personally, things only continued to worsen for Cheryl, after she contracted a severe case of malaria during a trip to Africa and was hospitalized in the summer of 2010.
Meanwhile, Cheryl had been hard at work on her solo efforts after Girls Aloud went on hiatus in 2008. Her first studio album, 3 Words, released in late 2009, was produced by hitmakers like Black Eyed Peas's will.i.am, and included the #1 hit “Fight For This Love.” Cheryl’s sophomore effort, 2010’s Messy Little Raindrops, was equally successful, debuting at #1 on the UK charts and featuring the dance hit “Promise This,” which the tabloids suggested was about Derek Hough nursing Cheryl back to health following her bout with malaria. (Given that she didn’t write it, this was probably a stretch.)
Now, with Cheryl set to conquer this side of the pond, it’s likely that we’ll be hearing a lot more about Britain’s sweetheart, although concerns have already been raised about her thick Geordie accent. (“Geordie” is a nickname for natives of the Tyneside region of northeastern England; incidentally, the area plays host to MTV’s British Jersey Shore spinoff, Geordie Shore.) For now, it remains to be seen whether Cheryl will have the same success with American viewers that she’s had in the UK, capturing the country’s hearts and headlines.