You could be forgiven for thinking ‘is that really Sarah Smith?’
Gone are the bubble gum dresses, cute ballet pumps and Alice bands that she was sporting two years ago.
In their place are an up-to-the-minute toga style dress and boots with a heel that could take out several toes.
To say she and brother Sean have been through something of an image change would be an understatement.
The sibling duo that captured the hearts of a nation of youngsters and finished third in TV’s X Factor back in 2007 have transformed their cutesy look. Same Difference are back with a new style, a new sound and plenty of energy.
Despite looking like she means business on the duo’s new album cover, Sarah is as bubbly as ever when she talks about Same Difference’s latest material.
‘We’re still Sarah and Sean,’ she says to reassure the existing fans – and their parents.
‘It’s still pop music, we’re not having to put a Parental Guidance sticker on the album or anything. It’s not a hardcore rap-fest,’ she adds, laughing.
But she says Same Difference have grown up and their image and music have had to change with the years.
‘We’re proud of what we’ve done but three years down the line, we couldn’t keep doing that tweenie stuff. That’s what people do, they grow up and change their image. Now we’re doing the kind of thing we like to listen to ourselves.’
Sean, 25, and 22-year-old Sarah release their new album The Rest Is History on Monday. It’s going to be a hectic day. The duo, who grew up in Widley, are appearing on BBC 1’s This Morning and then signing albums at Asda in Fratton in the early evening.
But they can’t wait to launch their new material. It’s still upbeat bouncy pop, but their most recent single Shine On Forever (Photo Frame) made it into the top 10 of the UK Club Chart - reaching just the kind of audience Same Difference would like to attract.
It’s music for adults, teens and kids, explains Sarah who is immensely proud that this time round she and Sean have written some of the songs.
But with that comes a new kind of pressure.
‘Before it was to sell as many records as possible,’ says Sarah.
‘But now I feel protective about the music. We’ve had more input so it feels more like us.’
The duo are enjoying the freedom of being with an independent record label. Same Difference parted ways with Simon Cowell’s Syco in 2009 after their initial contract wasn’t renewed.
‘We weren’t selling multi-millions and that’s the way it goes. We sold a lot but not enough for a new band,’ says Sarah.
‘But we parted on good terms and they signed the album (SD’s first release Pop) over to us. They didn’t have to do that, they could have said ‘we’ve spent a lot of money and we’re shelving it’. But they gave it to us to try to do more with it.’
Sarah and Sean originally auditioned separately for the X Factor and ended up as Same Difference after being pushed together on the programme. Their image was also a product of the talent show.
They’ve moved on but they have no regrets.
‘Sean auditioned with Bon Jovi’s Living On A Prayer, so that tells you something,’ says Sarah.
‘But it was amazing and we had a fantastic time. It’s a brilliant platform and they found this niche for us and we had great fun.’
They’re even fine with the verbal bashing they received from judge Louis Walsh, who famously told them they’d do well at Butlins.
Same Difference’s answer was to play to their strengths and they ended up doing a 2008 tour of the company’s holiday resorts.
‘Louis was fine backstage, there was no vendetta,. As people say, it was a bit like pantomime,’ says Sarah.
Same Difference had a hectic and exciting year after the show, including tours, television shows and experiencing about 200 people turning up at their parents’ house on New Year’s Eve.
‘We weren’t prepared for that kind of thing,’ says Sarah.
‘I think they all came round as a bit of a laugh after parties and things. And we weren’t protected, you can’t have bouncers at your house. It hit home then, but luckily my dad’s a big man.’
And Sarah often finds herself defending the show.
‘I did a Radio 5 debate with a guy from Kerrang! and I was really fighting its corner. I think if people come off that show and are prepared to work hard, that’s fine.’
Sarah and Sean feel it has given them an excellent start. They have been able to buy their own homes in Portsmouth and are now ready for the next stage of their careers.
‘We couldn’t keep doing the kind of thing we’d done before. I’m older, I have a house and a dog,’ says Sarah, who lives with boyfriend Jay and pug Kenco.
Same Difference are now preparing for plenty of promotional and TV work, including an appearance on ITV’S Celebrity Juice next week.
Sarah is a bit nervous about what to expect from comedy character host Keith Lemon.
‘I once said publicly that I found him very attractive, so I keep thinking he’s going to really embarrass me,’ she laughs.
And that’s not the only challenge she’s facing. As well as performing on This Morning, Sarah and Sean will also be taking on TV chef Gino D’Acampo in a cookery contest.
‘We’re terrible cooks, the extent of my cooking is microwave pizza,’ says Sarah.
‘So I had to ring my mum and ask for some recipes and help.’
Same Difference might have matured but, as many grown-up kids and their parents will tell you, some things never change.
Same Difference timeline
December 2007: Same Difference win over the X Factor judges and delight the public. They come third in the competition. In the week of the finals thousands gather to greet Sarah and Sean as they return to Portsmouth to perform at the Guildhall.
July 2008: The duo fly to Sweden to record their debut album Pop!
December 2008: Pop! is released and sells 180,000 copies.
April 2009: Same Difference are dropped by Simon Cowell’s Syco record label after their contract ends.
January 2010: The duo are signed to independent record label PopLife.
Summer 2010: They complete an exhausting 66-date tour of Pontins resorts.
August 2010: Sean and Sarah release their new single Shine On Forever (Photo Frame).
February 2011: The duo release their new album The Rest Is History
Sarah and Sean will be signing copies of their new album at Asda in Somers Road, Fratton, Portsmouth on Monday from 5pm. In Monday’s News, we’ll also be printing a FREE poster of Same Difference that Sean and Sarah will sign for you if you go along to see them at Asda. Don’t forget to pick up your copy.