Natasha Bedingfield breaks into the States. The U.K. singer talks about her brother Daniel, making it overseas, and not having to worry about paparazzi

”Mooo,” moans Natasha Bedingfield in her best bovine voice while recording a segment for AOL kids’ radio. ”Baahhhh! Baaaah! Mooooo! Mooooo! Moooooooo!” Despite a No. 1 album in more than 12 countries, despite the trails of paparazzi that lurk outside her U.K. home, the 23-year-old university dropout has been reduced to making barnyard noises in New York City’s Sony Studios to promote the U.S. release of her debut album, Unwritten.

This sort of thankless new-artist promotion — really, imagine Mariah or Gwen Stefani doing such a thing — has been a cold splash in the face for Bedingfield. ”Sometimes when you’re really big in another country, you still have to work from the ground up,” she says. ”It’s not right. You have to start again.” Still, it’s not all bad. ”No one recognized me at all when I first arrived in the States. It was a bit of a holiday for me because I could be as crazy as I like and it wasn’t going to be in the paper the next day.”

But American celeb-snappers should take note: Now that Unwritten‘s first single, ”These Words,” is a top 20 hit with a big-budget video enjoying heavy rotation on MTV and VH1, Bedingfield is on her way to becoming serious tabloid fodder. Indeed, she has all the makings of a Yankee pop star: lad-mag-ready good looks, instantly memorable sing-along hooks, and a bluesy badass voice that belies her smooth fusion of rock, R&B, and lite hip-hop. ”It’s pop music,” she says, ”but it’s got soul.”

Bedingfield’s eclectic musical taste traces back to her childhood in London, where she grew up listening to Stevie Wonder, the Beatles, Jeff Buckley, and Sting. As a teenager, she teamed up with her sister, Nikola, and brother, Daniel, to form DNA Algorithm, an R&B trio that made the rounds on the talent-show circuit. The group didn’t go anywhere, and Natasha never took music that seriously — that is, until Daniel landed a record deal and scored a huge hit single, 2001’s ”Gotta Get Thru This.” ”It really inspired me to spend a long time honing my skills,” she says. Boosted by her big bro’s stardom, Bedingfield’s album debuted at No. 1 in the U.K. last September. It’s been flying off shelves ever since.

But when she landed in America with a portfolio of glossy publicity shots and a collection of expensive videos for her U.K. singles, Bedingfield’s American label, Epic, decided to start from scratch and think of her as a complete newbie. ”We didn’t take anything for granted in terms of her international success,” says Sony Music senior vice president of A&R Keith Naftaly, who oversaw the U.S. release. (Think of Robbie Williams and Ms. Dynamite, who have landed in the U.S. with a thud.) ”We treated her like a brand-new artist because we wanted to present a more humble side.”

For all of Bedingfield’s early inroads into the U.S. pop market (a single on the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants soundtrack that made her a teen favorite, a decent No. 26 debut for Unwritten on the U.S. charts), she still has a long way to go if she wants to match her European success. And some skeptics suggest her career has less to do with her talent than with her celebrated sibling. Bedingfield doesn’t entirely disagree. ”Because my brother was so famous and so good, that gave me an advantage in the sense that people would at least listen to my stuff to see if it’s crap or good,” she says. ”It obviously made people interested, but it put a lot of pressure on me. I knew my stuff had to be really good.”

So far, American audiences seem to like what she’s doing, and ”These Words” is shaping up to be one of fall’s biggest hits. Whether that will translate into true stardom is another question. ”We think she has the skills to become a career artist as opposed to a cute girl with one hit single,” says Naftaly. Bedingfield, meanwhile, has a different take on her chances in the U.S. market, comparing them to winning a British fairground game where ”you throw a ball to try to hit the coconut, and if you knock it down, you win the big, fluffy animal.” A cow, perhaps?

AGE: 23
ALBUM: Unwritten
FAMILY AFFAIRS: Bedingfield and her singing older brother, Daniel, are listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the first siblings to each score a No. 1 single on the English charts.
FOREIGN POLICY: ”The American music industry is the world leader,” she says. ”In Europe everyone is singing American songs. You do well in the Olympics as well, don’t you? You have really good training. I don’t know about your education, but it’s probably good.”
PLAYMATES: ”I’d love to work with Coldplay, OutKast, and Kanye West. And who would turn down a duet with Stevie Wonder?”