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Dido tries to follow up smash success of her debut album

No one, including her music producer brother, paid much attention to Dido when she made her first album.

Twelve million copies later, the British singer-songwriter has replaced obscurity with the pressure of proving that she's more than a one-time sensation who owes her success to an Eminem sample.

Her followup album, "Life For Rent," is out Tuesday. It's an important day for Dido and her record company, Arista, which is eager for a big seller over the holidays in a year of slumping music sales.

Dido's boss ratchets up the pressure even more.

"We firmly believe we have maybe the best lyric writer in the business today," said Antonio "L.A." Reid, Arista president and a top songwriter himself in the 1980s. "I would challenge anybody to write as well as her in modern music."

Dido Armstrong, the 31-year-old daughter of a poet and a publisher who uses her first name professionally, returned to the same British studio to make the new album. She worked again with her brother, Rollo, a member of the group Faithless.

"It took a lot of the paranoia out of it, really," she said. "Obviously, I put a lot of pressure on myself because I wanted to make it great and not disappoint people."

"I just want to make a great, classic pop song."

Her first album, "No Angel," was recorded between 1996 and 1998. Dido sneaked into the studio, often late at night, when her brother wasn't working on his own material or the studio wasn't booked.

"No Angel" was en route to modest success in the United States, and hadn't even been released in Europe, when Dido received an unexpected package in the mail.

It was from Eminem. One of the rap star's friends had heard Dido's song "Thank You" in the movie "Sliding Doors." Eminem sampled a portion of the song for the chorus of "Stan," his own epic story of a suicidal fan. He wanted Dido's permission to use it.

Dido was thrilled. She figured it would make her hip among her friends. She had no problem giving the OK, and even acted in the "Stan" video as Eminem's pregnant girlfriend.

No one could have anticipated that music fans -- millions of them -- would be so intrigued by the six lines of "Thank You" in Eminem's song that they would buy Dido's own disc.

"Any way that people hear music, it's good, and if it's on a quality track like `Stan,' even better," Dido said. "If it had been something really (lousy), I'd probably feel worse about it, but it was a great, great track. I felt like I was part of something special."

Some skeptics might wonder, however, if the Eminem connection put an asterisk on her success. After all, friends and neighbors in Britain couldn't even buy Dido's record until after "Stan" became a hit.

"If I felt like people had been disappointed when they bought the album -- if they bought it because of that -- then maybe I'd feel as if I had something to prove," she said. "But I didn't get that feeling."

Reid also rejects the idea that Dido's success wasn't her own.

"How many times does an artist get sampled and that sample turns into 12 million sales?" he asked. "That never happens."

If it did, Reid said, then Earth, Wind & Fire would be at the top of the charts.

"Life For Rent" follows the same blueprint as Dido's first album: strong, singer-songwriter era tunes with a touch of electronica that creates a hip sheen.

The title refers to following your dreams, instead of drifting through life waiting for something to happen. She knows from experience: Dido had set aside her musical ambitions to work as a literary agent in her mid-20s. Even her brother had urged her not to give up her job.

The experience helped her appreciate success, in a way she might not have if she were 21. "I've really enjoyed success," Dido said. "It has made my life unbelievable. I'm living this amazing life that I never thought would happen."

She loves the ability to travel somewhere exotic with little notice.

"Success brings a lot of freedom to me. I know a lot of people feel very restricted by it, and I think that maybe comes with too much fame," she said. "Now I have lots of people loving the music, but not the stress of not being able to go anywhere without 10 people looking after you."

After "No Angel" became a success in the United States, Dido's record company took time to market the album around the world. So it's been three years since "No Angel" was high on the charts in the United States, an uncomfortably long wait in the music industry.

Reid concedes that's a hurdle for his marketing team. But he believes Dido's songs can overcome it.

"Times change, the climate changes, market conditions change," he said. "Dido wasn't necessarily a trendy artist to begin with."

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