By RAPHAEL G. SATTER, Associated Press
LONDON — In northeastern England they say she’s a canny lass — and maybe that’s the problem.
British sweetheart Cheryl Cole has reportedly been dumped from U.S. television, and tabloid media say she lost her big break in part over fears American audiences wouldn’t understand her regional accent or the phrases unique to her corner of Britain.
Cole, whose rags-to-riches showbiz story has captivated her country, had been expected to appear as a judge on Simon Cowell’s “The X Factor” due to premiere in the United States later this year. But on Friday Britain’s tabloids announced the 27-year-old had been removed as a judge, and her official status with the program, which has already started shooting, remains unclear.
Ann-Marie Thomson, public relations chief for Cowell’s entertainment company, declined comment when called by The Associated Press. But Sinitta Malone, a guest presenter on the British version of “X Factor,” told ITV television that Cowell and Cole were in talks “trying to sort something out.”
Whatever happens, Cole’s absence would dent her dreams of graduating to American — and international — celebrity. It’s an ambition that seemed widely shared by her fans, and indeed by Britain’s tabloid media, which have treated her with unusual deference over the years.
Born Cheryl Tweedy, Cole has long been dubbed the nation’s sweetheart, a description that owes much to her inspiring rise from a gritty public housing estate in the northeastern England city of Newcastle. Her parents, who never married, split up when she was 11. Her brother was addicted to sniffing glue. Cole herself was expelled from school twice before leaving at 16.
But she had good looks and a good voice. After auditioning for “X Factor”-forerunner “Popstars The Rivals,” she was placed in pop group Girls Aloud, which went on to score a string of hits.
Her successful solo career, a marriage to soccer player Ashley Cole and a job judging contestants on the U.K. “X Factor” cemented her stardom.
“It’s important that she came through a talent show,” said Sanna Inthorn, a professor of media and politics at the University of East Anglia, in eastern England. “The people made her, they chose her, they championed her.”
Questions about her accent have been around as long as the idea of moving Cole to the United States.
Cole speaks with what’s known in the U.K. as a Geordie accent. Particular to Newcastle, many from the region use words such as “bairn” instead of “child,” “hinny” instead of “woman,” and “me” instead of “my.” Intonation tends to rise at the end of sentences, while vowel sounds tend to shift in such as way that the word “brown” ends up sounding more like “brune.”
Finally there’s a liberal helping of words such as “pet,” “lass” and “like” — many on display as a kindly Cole guided contestants through the British version of “The X Factor.”
Inthorn said that Cole’s way of speaking was critical to her image as a caring, compassionate working-class girl-made-good.
“Her regional accent is very important,” Inthorn said. “‘Geordie’ — that is itself a kind of endearing term, (suggesting) a down-to-earth, real person who speaks from the heart.”
Cole has kept the emphasis on her homey image in the United States, telling American journalists in Los Angeles that “I miss me friends, me family, me tea and me soaps.” After reporters were left confused about what kind of soap she was talking about — she meant soap operas — she was asked whether she’d considered changing her accent to suit an American audience.
“I would never, ever change how I speak,” she said.
Inthorn said she was confident Cole could recover from the rebuff. “She could come back here and resume her career — because she’s been misunderstood by Americans. She’s coming back to her true roots,” she said.
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