SHE may be compared to Welsh soprano Katherine Jenkins but Ayr-born Nicola Cassells is no ordinary classical singer.

The 23-year-old recently collaborated with a hip-hop duo and is now being mentored by Scots singer songwriter Sandi Thom.  And now Nicola is gearing up to perform at the Evening Times’ 50th annual Scotswoman of the Year Awards at the City Chambers tomorrow night.

The rising star’s style reflects her musical choices: she doesn’t want to conform to the traditional idea of classical music.  So it’s out with the grown up floor-length gowns and in with the glam cocktail dresses.

The Evening Times joined Nicola – and her dad Brian who is also her manager – on a shopping trip at the St Enoch Centre, the awards’ sponsor, to help her find inspiration for a show-stopping outfit to wow the crowd at tomorrow’s event.

“My regular style is quite modern and up-to-date,” said Nicola as she tried on different styles of dresses in the centre’s branch of Debenhams.  I go for a lot of monochrome at the moment and I like to wear it with different colours of blazers.  I like to try and mix it up a wee bit depending on the type of event I’m going to sing at.  “For going on stage I like to stand out.  I don’t go for the traditional look people think is for classical singers, I like to look different.”

Nicola began carving a career in the music industry after scooping the Retail Trust charity’s talent competition Search for a Star four years ago.  The budding star, who has just left her part-time job at H Samuel in Ayr, has just been named as a finalist in the Best Solo Artist category in the Scottish Variety Awards.

It is no surprise that she is compared to Jenkins, given that she has a mane of blonde hair and a voice which is just as powerful.  Nicola said: “I know Katherine and I are very similar but I’m trying to get away from that sort of style.  But Katherine was my original idol. She is one of the reasons I started singing classically.  People always thought that classical singers were all about old- fashioned opera and when I joined my local choir people used to think it wasn’t cool.  But Katherine changed that and I just thought I could step it up a level to appeal to the younger generation.”

Nicola has stuck to that ethos throughout her career. She collaborated with hip hop stars SHY and DRS on their track Heart of Stone.  “I absolutely loved doing that,” Nicola said.  “I joined up with the hip hop guys because I wanted to do something different.”

Nicola is now working with Aberdeenshire-born singer Thom, who shot to fame when her single I Wish I was a Punk Rocker (with flowers in my hair) scooped the No. 1 spot in 2005.  Nicola has signed up to Thom’s Guardian Angel Records label.