Though it’s easy to cringe as acerbic judge Simon Cowell takes shots at a new round of singer-wannabes on the fourth season of American Idol, all it takes is a quick reminder of our own version of the undyingly popular franchise to remember that Idol (for all its obvious flaws) nearly always creates immediate stars. While second-season Canadian Idol winner Kalan Porter is currently crossing the country in a sold-out concert tour and is all over our TV screens in the flashy video for his first single, which proclaims he’s “the hit and the hook that [we’re] looking for,” runner-up Theresa Sokyrka has taken a very different route towards building her own career in music.

Saskatoon native Sokyrka, 23, was an unlikely Idol from the start, a folk chick with Lisa Loeb glasses who seemed so darned nice that cynical fans were certain her effusive gushing was merely a ploy to charm the judges and voters alike. It wasn’t an act-the ever-optimistic singer/songwriter is an anti-diva, every bit as warm and gracious as she seems-and her jazz-tinged voice and warm personality won her fans across the country, keeping her in the contest until her loss to Porter in the finale.

After CI2 ended, the nine finalists were forced to put their lives on hold for three months, unable to sign contracts or do any formal recording until Porter’s album was released and his career launched by BMG Canada. While Sokyrka discussed demo deals with several interested labels, she chose instead to do things her own way, turning down all offers in order to record independently.

“When record labels are involved-not that I’m saying it’s a bad thing-it’s a lot harder to maintain creative control,” she notes. “I paid for all the rights to the songs…. I paid for my album. I did that on my own. It’s such a satisfaction. It’s so awesome.”

The result of months of hard work was These Old Charms, an album that Sokyrka describes as “a mixture of Idol tunes, old jazz standards, and three of my own originals,” due to be released in late April. The album is both a thank you to her Idol supporters and a goodbye to the trappings of the show.

“I put out this album for a reason, to kind of leave those Idol songs behind,” Sokyrka notes. “I mean, I love them all, and I love to perform them, but after this tour I’ll probably just go on my own path. My next album, I really intend to put all originals on it… I’m so pumped for the second album!”

Despite her commitment to the indie path she’s chosen, Sokyrka is in no way ashamed of her Idol past. Her only complaints about the experience are quibbles about 12-hour days filming advertising segments for sponsors, and she is generous in her praise for the people she met on the show, both fellow competitors and the staff behind the scenes.

“As long as you’re true to yourself and you’re willing to work when you get out of it, then it can’t really be viewed as a negative thing,” she says. “It gets your foot in the door-I mean, the exposure that I gained during that show was incredible. It’s honestly an amazing, amazing opportunity, and it’s been nothing but good.”

Not only that, but Sokyrka says she’s thankful every single day that she lost the Idol title-she has a clear idea of what she wants to achieve, and is quite certain that the BMG contract that came with winning the competition would not have fit into her plans. A complete album with pre-written songs was presented to both Porter and Sokyrka prior to the final vote, and Sokyrka was uncertain of her ability to be the type of pop princess the label was looking for.

“I don’t know how I would feel about a bunch of strangers writing my songs,” she muses. “I mean, how are you supposed to emote? I’m really bad at doing that. And then they’d probably ask me to dance, too, and that would be horrible! Can you imagine me with, like, Britney Spears pigtails? It would be a nightmare!”

Instead, Sokyrka has been touring constantly, showcasing her own songs while accompanying herself on guitar, and recently signed a distribution deal with MapleMusic, a label she admires for their evident commitment to their artists. Music isn’t the only thing that’s kept her busy-in January, she was named Youth Ambassador for the Saskatchewan Centennial celebrations, a position that has taken her to schools across the province as she speaks to schoolchildren about the importance of following their dreams. Who better than Sokyrka, a musician who went from obscurity to national fame in less than a year, to spread the message?

“It’s hard to be a kid nowadays. I talk to them about finding yourself, staying true to yourself. That’s really important to me, to always feel comfortable with who I am and never feel like I’m selling out,” she says.

“I’m totally inspired by music that’s written from the heart. I’ve always delved into my emotions, and that’s always been something I’ve been okay with… singing about my life, and singing about things I’ve gone through. That’s what’s real. That’s what’s exciting for me.”

Theresa Sokyrka plays the Mod Club March 26 with opener Nathan Wiley. Tickets are $20 at Ticketmaster and Rotate This.

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