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NEW YORK (Billboard) - When Delta Goodrem was cast in Australia's long-running serial "Neighbours" in 2002, the teenager didn't care for the "bad girl" character written for her -- and had the audacity to renege on the potentially career-making role.
Goodrem had already signed a development deal with Sony Records and felt the part didn't suit the hopeful tone of her music. "It's hard now to believe I had the courage to do that," the 23-year-old says.
But as it turns out, show producers wanted to fly with Delta, and they rewrote the role of shy coffee-shop staffer/budding singer Nina Tucker to her liking -- and she signed on.
Goodrem has certainly made good on not being bad -- but her story has since played out with more real-life melodrama than any soap. When her latest album, "Delta," arrives July 15, it will represent the culmination of five topsy-turvy years.
Her first single, "Born to Try" (Columbia), rallied to No. 1 at home in Oz, while her debut album, "Innocent Eyes," spent 29 weeks as a chart-topper, selling 14 times platinum and winning seven Australian Recording Industry Assn. Awards. The record also made her a star in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Greece, Sweden and Japan.
And then her career came to a halt when, at 18, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer that attacks the immune system. A U.S. launch of her album on Columbia was compromised; single "Lost Without You" reached No. 18 on Adult Contemporary radio, but because she was too weak to promote it, Goodrem's planned album was scrapped.
After chemotherapy and radiation, her 2004 sophomore CD "Mistaken Identity" was released in established territories and, not surprisingly, displayed a starker lyrical side.
Goodrem says, "I was young, but never naive, and found strength as a woman. I know it was intense, even tiring."
Fans stood alongside her (even as she retired from "Neighbours"), and she had another No. 1 album. Then, "Delta" in 2007 became her third consecutive chart-topping disc.
"The title reflects that I'm my own person now, I've learned a lot," she says. "You can only control so much in life."
Now, she returns to the States, where she's signed to Mercury's resurrected imprint Decca. It's a slightly reconfigured "Delta" arriving Stateside. The first single, the uptempo, piano-fervent "In This Life" --co-written by Goodrem and her fiance, Bryan McFadden (formerly of hitmaking Irish boy band Westlife) -- is bulleted at No. 35 on adult contemporary top 40.
"It's even more rewarding that I get to come back and start properly," Goodrem says of her U.S. relaunch. "I'm hungry for this and committed to being a new artist. I feel like I was always meant to do this, like there's a chip in my body that says, 'OK, what's next?"'