The Story of Pop: 2002 (Chapter 37)

Revisiting more chart hits from two decades ago than you could shake a stick at, this is The Story of Pop: 2002. And we’re back with the Pop Idol stars once again for this week’s featured hit…

  • Artist: Sarah Whatmore
  • Song: When I Lost You
  • Released: 09/09/2002
  • Writers / Producers: Richard “Biff” Stannard
  • Highest UK Chart Position: #6
  • Weeks on Chart: 10

If that groundbreaking first series of Pop Idol illustrated one thing, it wasn’t so much the enormous success that it generated for its two frontrunners, Will Young and Gareth Gates, and also Darius – in fact, on reflection, that element was probably never in doubt, regardless of who won the competition.

But it was more the sheer number of subsequent other careers it launched – however long they lasted. Jessica Garlick finished ninth but ended up going onto give the UK – until the success of Sam Ryder this year – our best result of the 21st century at Eurovision, finishing third with her entry “Come Back” at that year’s contest in Tallinn, Estonia. Sixth placed Rosie Ribbons notched up a couple of top 20 hits, and Zoe Birkett also landed herself a top 20 hit.

Some probably deserved a longer run than others did after the show – and we’d argue this week’s featured artist and alumni of the show should have been set up for chart slaying longevity. Hailing from Salford in Manchester, Sarah Whatmore was 19 years old when she auditioned for Pop Idol.

An early favourite with the judges, Simon Cowell memorably – and with 2022 eyes on, creepily – proposed marriage to her after one of her auditions. But despite making it to the final 50 heats, she just missed out on a place in the final 10 to Aaron Bayley and Rik Waller (the latter of whom was, of course, later replaced by Darius after pulling out due to a throat infection).

But keen to snap her up and not let her potential escape (even if the public hadn’t quite recognised it at that moment), Simon Fuller then landed her a management deal with his 19 Management stable, and a record deal with RCA/BMG. When Sarah did finally emerge in the autumn of 2002, it was with an altogether different proposition, musically speaking, from the other releases that the show had spawned to that point.

We don’t think we’re being unkind here when we say that, given how broad the audience of Pop Idol was and that half the country were watching it, it had, to a degree, to play the safest cards in the book for maximum appeal when it came to the music. Hence “Evergreen”, hence “Unchained Melody”, hence “Anyone Of Us” etc. Ballads, mid-tempos and covers of timeless standards were very much the order of the day.

That’s not to say it was a bad thing – as we’ve seen in previous entries that’s part of why Will and Gareth sold as much as they did and were as huge as they were in 2002. But Sarah Whatmore was an altogether different proposition, so a different tack was required. Free of the constraints that being in the final 10 would have placed upon her, she was, you suspect, what would’ve been nearer to the judges’ definition of a pop idol in the more current and conventional sense of what was happening in the charts at that time.

So it’s perhaps no surprise then, that “When I Lost You”, her debut single, was believed to have been earmarked at one time for Kylie Minogue for her then galatico Fever album (the same album which had not long given the world the chart slaying Cathy Dennis penned number one “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head”).

Written and produced by Richard “Biff” Stannard, who’d provided Kylie with the other two huge hits off that album – “Love At First Sight” and “In Your Eyes” – sonically it shared a lot of DNA with the club friendly, spiky, electro sounding pop on that album.

It definitely has its eyes and intention set on the dancefloor, but lyrically there is a wistfulness at play here, as the song mourns the loss of a relationship: “What we had was so good / What can I do to get you back?” This bridge line gives way to an addictive chorus of “When I lost you, I lost everything (but I still love you) / When I lost you, I lost everything (now I’m falling apart, cause you’re still in my heart)”.

What was true of this song and Sarah’s performance on it two decades ago is still true today; it’s surprising just how well it works with her vocal and her personality she bought across in the performance. For the most part in 2002, reality TV music shows were still having to overcome music cynics and snobs who believed that it was all a fleeting fad – as evidenced by the messy split of Hear’Say around the time of this single, after just 20 months in the charts following their Popstars win.

But songs like “When I Lost You” were challenging this cynicism, and for a short time, defying expectations. Cruising into the chart for Sarah at a respectable #6 upon its release in September – a higher chart position, you will note, than any of the other female finalists from the first series managed – it eventually stayed on the chart for 10 weeks, and there was thus a bit more interest around what she would do next.

It was most annoying then, that the answer was a premature end. The equally brilliant follow up single “Automatic” was released in February 2003, and musically consolidated her position. Commercially speaking, however, it just agonisingly missed out on the top 10, peaking at #11, causing the plans for her debut album, titled Living Proof, which was due for release after “Automatic”, to be promptly sent into disarray, resulting in Sarah leaving her deal with RCA/BMG with only a six track sampler committed to promo only hell.

She would however go onto self release a debut album proper in 2009, called Time To Think – by which point the world and the same Pop Idol audience had largely moved on to the likes of The X Factor for new talent and new stars. But make no mistake; “When I Lost You” remains a cracker of a single, and under any other circumstances, much like Sarah herself, it would and deserves to be a lot more widely remembered.

Don’t forget to follow our brand new playlist on Spotify – updated weekly so you never miss a song from the story of pop in 2002. And you can leave your memories of the songs below in the comments, Tweet us or message us on Instagram, using the hashtag #StoryofPop2002.

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