More than two months ago, bands across Canada began to make their way to CBC Music and, with a few clicks, entered Searchlight 2014: the Hunt for Canada's Best New Artist.
More than 4,000 acts entered, spanning genres and regions, and creating a massive showcase for talent in this country. The odds for any of them to come out on top and be named Canada's best new musical act was around 1/50th of one per cent.
Today, the Searchlight judges revealed their winner: Lauren Mann and the Fairly Odd Folk of Brooks, Alta., have been crowned Searchlight champions!
They have won $20,000 in new music equipment from Yamaha Canada Music, a showcase slot at the CBC Music Festival in Vancouver on Saturday June 14 along side Tegan and Sara and Spoon, and a professional recording session with CBC.
Their song, "I Lost Myself," couldn't be more appropriate. Lauren Mann wrote it at a time when she had stopped performing, without realizing what she had lost. The song and this win are milestones in a remarkable journey.
"I wrote 'I Lost Myself' a few years ago after I had just moved away from home for the first time, was getting married, and started a new job," she says. "So I had a bunch of changes happening in my life and it was kind of crazy and through it all I stopped playing music for a little while. I just forgot about it. I forgot that I wanted to play, and I just got busy and occupied with other things."
She left Calgary, her home of 12 years, to move to Rocky Mountain House, a camp in a provincial park, with her husband. The new phase in her life was exciting and distracted her from music, though she felt the loss mixed up with pangs caused by separation from her friends back home.
"It was beautiful but it was very isolated and there was only whoever was working at the camp around there," she says. "So you're in this very small community so I guess that kind of setting contributed to me feeling separated from my friends and family ... I do remember going for a walk in the evening and seeing all this beauty, and appreciating it, but still having this incomplete feeling. 'I really appreciate where I am and all that's around me, but I still feel like something's missing.'"
Mann says she wasn't fully aware of how much she missed music until she stumbled back into it with some prompting from her husband.
"One day my husband set up my piano for me and suggested I play, so I did, and one of the first songs I played was one I had written a few years previous about feeling at home in many different places. It made me realize that I loved playing music, and I had forgotten about the dreams I had of touring and recording. A few months later my husband and I left Alberta to travel across Canada, and through that, decided to pursue music full time. And that's how it all started!"
The listeners certainly supported her decision, as the band powered its way to the top of the Calgary regional contest and into the national round. The judges immediately took note, though the group had enough voter support to make the national top 10 without being saved from elimination by the judges.
When the time came for the judges to pick, Sarah Slean chose to take them into the finals.
"The reason I chose them as my pick," Slean says, "they could really blossom and evolve and become a classic killer live group. I could see them writing the Blue Rodeo songs of tomorrow, where you know every word. They're made for that."
Kardinal Offishall was also an enthusiastic supporter.
"I could see this song being played in festivals around the world," he says. "It's one of those songs to me that has the most widespread appeal. I think that this group has the best chance to become one of our biggest exports."
Torquil Campbell says the group is tailor-made for a Canadian audience.
"There is a history of song in this country, it's what we are addicted to," he says. "People in Canada would love that band, for many years ... they're going to find an audience. The investment will be paid back because that's a band that will find an audience in this country."
Now, Mann has completed a journey she started on a piano bench in northern Alberta. Her next tasks will include sharing a bill with Spoon and Tegan and Sara at the CBC Music Festival in Vancouver, and choosing $20,000 worth of gear from Yamaha Canada Music.
"We've thoroughly been enjoying being part of this contest, not just for the increased connections with our fans, but it's been great to connect and re-connect with some amazing acts across Canada," Mann says. "It's so great to see that even in a competition, Canadian artists and bands are so supportive of each other."
That support will be one more thing to help Lauren Mann and the Fairly Odd Folk as they continue their pursuit of musical dreams.
What do you think of the Searchlight 2014 winner? Who were you rooting for? Let us know in the comments below!
Listen to Grant Lawrence discuss the winner and the many great artists who participated in Searchlight 2014 today on CBC Radio 3!