Searchlight 2020 winner: Shawnee

We have a winner: Shawnee, a two-spirit, powerhouse singer-songwriter who grew up in Welland, Ont.

We have a winner: Shawnee, a two-spirit, powerhouse singer-songwriter who grew up in Welland, Ont.

Shawnee is the winner of Searchlight 2020. (CBC Music)

After some long and very careful deliberation, our judges have come to a decision. We are thrilled to announce that Welland, Ontario-raised, Edmonton-based, powerhouse singer-songwriter Shawnee has won Searchlight 2020!

Proudly identifying as a two-spirit person, Shawnee's heritage is Mohawk, from the Six Nations of the Grand River on her mother's side. Shawnee is the first Indigenous winner in Searchlight's 12-year history. Her winning song is "Building a Wall."

When we announced our annual hunt for Canada's best undiscovered musical talent back in January, we received over 1,000 original Canadian songs from every province and territory. With your voting help, we took that huge list of songs down to a Top 100, then a Top 10. Then our panel of industry expert judges took over.

Shawnee was announced as the winner of Searchlight 2020 on Thursday, March 5, on q with Tom Power. With her soaring vocals and unique take on hard-driving pop, Shawnee seems poised for a major breakthrough on the North American music scene.

"This is insane!" responded a shocked Shawnee when she was first informed that she had won Searchlight. "I feel like I'm dreaming. I feel like this isn't real. It's not real!" 

I feel like I'm dreaming. I feel like this isn't real.- Shawnee, on learning she has won Searchlight 2020

It is real.

For winning Searchlight 2020, Shawnee receives a prestigious placement in the Allan Slaight Juno Master Class, five days of recording at Studio Bell at the National Music Centre in Calgary, a performance at JunoFest at the 50th Juno Awards in Toronto, and a performance at the CBC Music Festival on Saturday, May 30, in Toronto, along with announced performers Metric, Halfmoon Run, Jeremy Dutcher and more. You can read about the full prize package in detail here.

It's hard not to be moved by the raw emotion in Shawnee's voice.- Kai Black, Searchlight judge and CBC Music executive producer

"It's hard not to be moved by the raw emotion in Shawnee's voice", commented Kai Black, Searchlight's executive producer and judge. "CBC Music is excited to support Shawnee in reaching the next stage of her career."

"Shawnee is fearlessly authentic in her artistry," added Zubin Thakker, a Searchlight judge, platinum-selling producer and music director for Shawn Mendes. "Her voice is powerful, her songs are well crafted, and I'm very excited to see what she does next as the winner of Searchlight 2020." 

Shawnee has shared the stage with the likes of Lady Gaga and Tegan & Sara, and has already garnered lots of media attention, being featured in Billboard's list of "11 Transgender & Non-Binary Musicians You Need to Know" and having profiles in Autostraddle, MTV, Exclaim and Curve.

In addition to "Building a Wall," she has released several other singles, including "Warrior Heart," a pop anthem for the We Matter campaign in support of Indigenous youth and ending youth suicide in Indigenous communities.

We caught up with Shawnee before her appearance on q to ask her a few questions on her whirlwind winning day.

Which one of your prizes are you looking forward to the most?

The CBC Music Festival! I have dreamt about playing that festival for years. I feel like it represents Canadian music to me. It's crazy that I get to play it. 

Can you tell us more about how you identify as a person and an artist?

Yes. I originally came out in my older teen years as a lesbian, and I started to further discover myself and my culture as an Indigenous person. That's when I began to regain the tradition of two-spirit. It made more sense to me. I felt less closed in, and I felt more a part of my culture and a part of my heritage, and closer to myself as a person. It felt like home.

You've been a strong advocate for Indigenous youth empowerment and suicide awareness. Why are those issues close to your heart?

In my younger teen years I struggled with depression and I struggled with suicidal thoughts. It almost took my life. When I discovered music, it healed me in a way that nothing and no one else could, so my life's mission is to give that back in any capacity that I might be able to, to any person who might feel the same way I did. Music empowered me to live.

Tell us about your Searchlight-winning song, "Building a Wall." What is it about?

Essentially, it's about guarding yourself from your life experiences. Life tends to throw you curve balls, so this is about closing yourself off from potentially self-sabotaging the rest of your chances and opportunities in life, because you might feel tainted by what you've been through and the things that you've faced. Ultimately, the song is about building a wall to protect yourself from anything you can't handle.

Check out how Shawnee built her Searchlight-winning song, "Building a Wall," in studio.

Congratulations to Shawnee, our 2020 Searchlight winner, from everyone here at CBC Music. We'll see you at the CBC Music Festival on Saturday, May 30, in Toronto!

Searchlight 2020 is CBC Music's hunt for Canada's best undiscovered talent. (CBC Music )