Pop Idol hopefuls Darius Danesh, Gareth Gates and Aaron Bayley were swamped with newly-acquired fans this week as they indulged in a spot of Christmas shopping at the Whitgift Centre.

The Croydon Guardian was the only newspaper invited to meet with the wannabe pop stars as they were filmed for the prime-time ITV programme on Tuesday (December 18).

Train driver Aaron Bayley, labelled the "people's choice" for the public vote, and Gareth Gates, who got through the tough auditions despite suffering from a severe stutter, signed autographs along with Darius Danesh, described as "corny" by Pop Idol judges.

The appearance of Darius who did not originally get through to the final ten hopefuls sparked fierce speculation that he has replaced flu-ridden contestant, Rik Waller.

But Pop Idol officials have insisted that Darius' presence was purely a "precautionary" measure in case Rik was still to unwell to continue with the live broadcast this weekend.