"People think that because of my nature and the tone of my voice that I'm stupid, and that's hard," says Rebecca Ferguson, the Liverpudlian mum of two who became 'X Factor' 2010's runner-up after earning a place in viewers' hearts with her soulful vocals and sweet manner.
Ferguson is undoubtedly one of the most credible acts to come out of the 'X Factor' since it began in 2004. Her debut album 'Heaven' has been certified platinum in the UK and her songs, the majority of which she writes and which show real emotion, have won critical acclaim.
And now the 26-year-old seems to have found more than just her singing voice: "I'm a much stronger person now, I know what I want. I'm a lot more feisty. I was so passive and shy then, I've got my head screwed on now."
The new feisty Ferguson was never more evident than when she recently spoke out against her former management company (who are suing her, claiming that she unlawfully ender her contract) on Twitter.
"I'm not afraid of a rant, am I? I've got to that point where I've just become a woman, I think I've just grown. I was 23 when I entered the show."
Ferguson, who's perched on the edge of a sofa in Sony Music HQ in London, is recovering from a cold, but there's been no time to rest - on Sunday she returned to the 'X Factor' to perform as part of the publicity drive to support her new sprightly Mowtown-esque single 'Backtrack' and a repackaged 'deluxe' version of her album.
She explains the decision to re-release 'Heaven' was made after two of the songs that were originally meant to feature weren't ready in time. One of these - 'Good Days, Bad Days', a wistful and modern soul-pop number - she describes as the most personal to her.
"I loved that song but it wasn't ready... it has a lot of hidden meaning to it."
I ask what's it about and she goes coy: "I'm never really going to say that. I want people to just figure that one out, it's a little question mark song.
"I'm normally really open about my songs to people, but that one I want people to think who I'm singing to and what it's about."
Popjustice joked it "sounds like it might very well be about Zayn Malik’s on/off relationship with Twitter". It could well be about her One Direction star ex-boyfriend, whom she met while on the 'X Factor', with lyrics that include "there you are, wishing on stars everyday".
There's also a fantastic cover of Gil Scott-Heron's 'Take Care', recently sung by Rihanna and Drake, on the album. "It's just something different, a bit unexpected."
Returning to the 'X Factor' this weekend must have brought back lots of memories. Ferguson confesses: "you still feel like you're going to get judged by the judges when you get on the stage." I wonder who's she's stayed in touch with from the show?
"I caught up with a few of them last week like Rebecca Crayton from Bel Ami and John Adeleye, I text Katie Waisel, I've been so busy. It would be nice to catch up with everyone." There's no mention of One Direction, who came third that year and are still managed by the company that is suing her.
Ferguson, who is even more beautiful in the flesh, admits there are some things she would do differently if she were to relive the past two years.
"There's lot of things I look back on and think I wish that hadn't of happened, but at the same time I don't regret that they happened because I've grown from them, I don't like having regrets," she explains.
And despite the low times - she recently revealed she almost quit music at one point - there have been plenty of highlights for the singer.
"Meeting Lionel Richie, the Christina Aguilera single... that was like a childhood dream and getting my [platinum] disc as well that was nice and the tour, seeing the fans."
Ferguson warms up when we talk about her fans: "There's a core group that I worry over like they are a family and if I don't hear from them I wonder what's going on with our Molly, 'how's our Richie?' and I worry over them. If I haven't heard from them I feel motherly."
She reveals they're also "warm and protective" towards her and care for her as if they really know her. "If I've got a gig coming up I'll send them a message and invite them," she adds.
Ferguson has got her sights set on working with hit maker Calvin Harris next and may well get the chance on her next album, which she plans to write next year. Will it be another album about love and heartbreak?
"I've gone through so much and I've met so many different people and weird and wonderful characters that I'm sure I'll gain inspiration,' she hints.
In the meantime Ferguson's indulging in one of her other passions: "I'm opening a beauty shop now... the Scousers will love that," she laughs.
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