It’s 9:30 on a chilly February morning, less than a week from the first stop on his very first cross-country concert tour. He’s been up since five, just finished taping a live appearance on CTV’s Canada A.M., and it’s possible his brand-new laptop may just have been cracked in half by one of his handlers, but when asked how he’s doing, the Canadian Idol says he’s “fantastically awesome”. Ryan Malcolm is a real trouper.

Life has been a whirlwind since the 23-year-old Kingston waiter was crowned the first Canadian Idol last September and went from nobody to household name virtually overnight. Within two months, Malcolm had recorded and released his debut album, Home, and on March 2nd, he took the stage in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, for the first stop on a tour that will take him from the Maritimes to Quebec and Ontario. It’s a lot to handle for a guy who was singing cover songs in small-town bars less than a year ago, but Malcolm seems to have his head on straight. When asked whether the scale of the tour was perhaps over-ambitious for a debut artist (Western Canadian dates had to be dropped at the last minute), he breaks from the typical “Everything is perfect!” Idol response to readily agree.

“That was a decision that was made in Los Angeles by my agent,” he explains. “I am a debut artist, but I do have an advantage obviously because of the show, and I think that’s what they thought… but I think it maybe was a little too ambitious. Maybe we should’ve done some club dates.”

While Malcolm may not sell out the vast soft-seater Hummingbird Centre when he hits Toronto this Friday, he has developed a loyal fanbase, a varied group who call themselves “Malcolmaniacs” and who have made his official Web site the busiest site of any Canadian artist. The Idol himself often drops by to communicate with his fans directly via the site’s message boards, something his counterparts south of the border would never dream of doing.

Malcolm’s insight into the music industry in our country is uncanny, considering the roots of his budding career grew from a schlocky reality TV show. While one would expect an Idol protg to be blissfully clueless, smiling for cameras and having no opinions other than those planted by Idol creator Simon Fuller’s PR people and company execs at BMG Canada, Malcolm wants to make it clear that he’s a no-bullshit kinda guy.

“I’m a very honest person,” he insists. “I say it like I see it and it does get me in shit sometimes. But you know what? Whatever. I’m Canadian, I speak my mind. I don’t want to offend anybody, I never talk badly about anybody else-I just speak badly about me.”

His Idol beginnings haven’t helped Malcolm gain the credibility he craves. Despite having an album that is far more on the pop-rock side than the sugary ballad-ridden records expected from an alum of the show’s spinoffs across the world, he’s been snubbed by not only critics, but also fellow artists.

“It’s kind of a shame, because I had met some other artists, and maybe they don’t like me because they’re jealous that I sell more CDs than they have, and I’m new,” he says. “It doesn’t bother me-I’m a huge lover of Canadian music, and a huge supporter as well, and the fact that they think I’m a little punk or whatever is fine. I’ve been called worse.”

It’s not just the Idol title Malcolm has to shake to overcome the obstacles in his path-he knows he’s got to compete not only with his Canadian peers, but also with hitmakers south of the border.

“We’re so consumed by American media. All of our magazines, all of our TV shows except for, like, three stations, are American. We might as well be America. It’s extremely sad,” Malcolm notes.

“It’s just so frustrating, and I can only imagine how much more frustrating it would be to be an artist who’s extremely talented and not selling records,” he continues, warming to the topic. “Some of the huge names in Canada, like Sloan, Treble Charger, Sam Roberts… that don’t sell a lot of records. It’s weird-if these guys were American, they’d be huge. But if they were in America, they’d lose their ‘artistic-ness’, I think, so you’ve got to take the good with the bad. If selling records is your main goal, then go to America. If being an artist is your main goal, then stay in Canada, or at least keep your roots in Canada, which is my goal. Obviously I want to sell records-I’d be lying if I said I didn’t-but that’s not my main goal.”

While it’s obvious Malcolm values the opportunities Canadian Idol has given him, his desire to be viewed as a legitimate artist comes through in everything he says. The unlikely winner of a show that is said to create celebrities rather than singers, he is, in many ways, the anti-Idol.

“I think that being a celebrity is just silly,” he scoffs. “I don’t view myself as a celebrity; I view myself as an artist. It gets complicated when you start thinking about celebrity status and all that crap. I’m so not into that it’s not even funny. It’s a great thing that I’m Canadian, because neither does the rest of the country.”

If only Simon Fuller could hear him now.

Ryan Malcolm plays the Hummingbord Centre Friday (March 12). For tickets, call (416) 872-2262.

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