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Meet the Top 25 regional finalists from Searchlight 2016

Editorial Staff


This year's Searchlight competition has been incredible, with so much amazing talent across the country. It was a tough decision for our industry panelists, but the results are in: announcing the top 25 regional winners for Searchlight 2016. Check the gallery below to see who they are and to learn more about them.

There are 23 regions in total, each with a finalist who will move on, as selected by our panel. On top of that, there are also two chosen by popular vote.

To watch and vote on all the top 25s, click here and search by either name or region. Voting for the national round closes Monday, May 9 at 2:59 p.m. ET.

From here, our Searchlight judges, Maestro Fresh Wes, Sarah Blackwood and Dallas Smith, will be deciding the three finalists who will move forward. The fourth finalist will be determined by popular vote. The four that make it to the end will compete on CBC-TV Searchlight to become the 2016 winner.

Who: Oh Geronimo
Region: Hamilton
Song: "Arctic Shores"
What the panelists had to say: "Oh Geronimo's 'Arctic Shores' had me simply for the first bars of harmonies, then I started paying attention to the lyrics and then this solid, banging guitar riff hits. And then boom, the song was over! Didn't feel like an almost 4 minute song, which blew me away. I'd see them live anytime."

What does your song mean to you?
Oh Geronimo:
"'Arctic Shores' is a song that contains three stages of a journey of self-reflection. While literally travelling northbound from the roadside to the timberline and on to the coastline, the narrator is also distancing themselves from their overwhelming urban life, seeking insight into their own character and purpose through a solitary retreat. The tone of the narrator's reflections varies between cynical and optimistic along the path to a dark cave by the ocean. Here they hibernate in isolation, until the arrival of their mental springtime, bringing a revival of purpose and a resolution to return anew to their life."

Who: Jesse Slack
Region: Central Ontario
Song: "Where This is Going"
What the panelists had to say: "This song belongs on country radio countdowns. Great voice. Catchy chorus with vivid imagery and clever wordplay. The band is tight with a good and marketable look and a seemingly engaging and energetic performance. The production is top-notch as well. Rock solid."

What does your song mean to you?
Jesse Slack: "'Where This is Going' means a lot to me. It's that perfect summer love song to me. Especially young love. Everyone has had that feeling where they don't know where they are headed with a relationship but they like where it's going."

Who: Blackwood Sinners
Region: Northern Ontario
Song: "Reno"
What the panelists had to say: "The Blackwood Sinners have locked down a classic rocking sound. They know what they want to do and do it well."

What does your song mean to you?
Blackwood Sinners:
"Our song 'Reno' is for everyone and anyone who's ever wanted to escape. Be it a job, relationship, life situation. It's about taking that first leap towards what drives you, what you deserve and where your true happiness lies."

Who: Havelin
Region: Edmonton
Song: "Alright, Alright"
What the panelists had to say: "Havelin leaves a lasting impression, letting his graceful vocals carry an understated, affecting and soulful performance — in a public park, of all places."

What does your song mean to you?
"'Alright, Alright' is an exploration of the acceptance and embracement of simplicity. It puts forth the idea of being okay with what you have and that maybe in the constant quest to "be okay" we've actually pushed ourselves further from that ideal. It's a rejection of the conquest for material gain and conceptualized success. Much of our pain and unhappiness comes from a pursuit of happiness — we're too caught up in trying to find it, when it's already there."

Who: Kalunga
Region: The North
Song: "Searching for Glory"
What the panelists had to say: "Kalunga mines reggae, soul and acoustic funk to position himself as the top pick from the North. His song "Searching For Glory" combines thoughtful lyrics and an undeniable hook, a winning combination. Plus, he's got style by the truckload."

What does your song mean to you?
"'Searching for Glory' is about following your ambitions/goals that you've had since you were a kid. Fulfilling the destiny which you've created for yourself and reaching your fullest potential. It's about finding that thing which will bring the best out of you. I put my childhood experiences of growing up in African countries in poverty and living only on a dream of becoming a great musician. Making sure I fulfil my childhood promise to myself no matter the circumstances. I am still on that journey.

Who: Gary & Whit
Region: Newfoundland
Song: "Water Under the Bridge"
What the panelists had to say: "I could easily hear this on CBC Radio 2, which is to say, I feel they are ready career-wise. Nice harmonies between the two."

What does your song mean to you?
Gary & Whit:
"'Water Under the Bridge' was the first song we released as a duo, which is one of the reasons it is so dear to our hearts. The song talks about the struggles that come with relationships and learning to forgive and grow together despite your differences. It is a testament to how we have learned to do that in our own relationship."

Who: Kenzie Jane
Region: Manitoba
Song: "Who Am I"
What the panelists had to say: "A soulful R&B performance supported by a rich voice that grows as the tune builds."

Why does your song mean to you?
Kenzie Jane: "'Who I Am' is about understanding that our emotional self experiences ups and downs. We can sometimes feel down and out even when we are surrounded by people that love us, and I think it is important to realize that so that steps can be taken to get ourselves back on our feet. 'Who I Am' is my reminder to take life as it comes. Life will have ups and downs and I'm not perfect, but it is not about me, and I'm not in control of everything. This song reminds me to live contemplatively and take time for myself and others."

Who: Savvie
Region: Vancouver
Song: "Gravity"
What the panelists had to say: "'Gravity' is a tune that will stay with you long after the final trippy note and video shot is done."

What does your song mean to you?
Savvie: "'Gravity' is a song about being inexplicably drawn to someone, no matter how unrealistic it may seem to actually be with them."

Who: Stegall
Region: Windsor-London
Song: "Predator"
What the panelists had to say: "I like the attitude of this song. It fits the times, feels honest and I think will speak to a lot young people. And there's a keytar, so that's awesome. It's catchy enough that you can sing along after the second listen."

What does your song mean to you?
"'Predator' is really about empowering yourself and following your dreams. More specifically, chasing them. It's hard-hitting and kind of cutting at times. Which is an honest vibe for how it feels to be in the music industry sometimes. The three of us sing the chorus lyric 'Lay It On Me' in three-part harmony. That is the moment when we stare our dream in the face and dare away."

Who: Midwest Mindset
Region: Calgary and Southern Alberta
Song: "Erasing my Mind"
What the panelists had to say: "I like the overall sound of this song; the mix of rapping and singing; electronic found-sound and acoustic instruments. I feel like they're playing with the medium, pushing forward, doing something original with empowering, thoughtful lyrics. A polished performance, especially when the MC goes double time. Plus, I like the way the sung chorus changes from 'erasing my mind' to 'embracing my mind.' It totally got stuck in my mind."

What does your song mean to you?
Midwest Mindset:
"'Erasing My Mind' was an unexpected stand out song from our debut album 1313. It was one of the first songs recorded for the project and initially we didn't expect a lot of feedback or support. However, once we started performing the song live and hearing from friends and fans, we knew the track contained something special. The lyrics are somewhat ominous and complex, we are trying to describe a culture that is obsessed with the media and the screens responsible for that message. The symbolism of us smashing the screens at the end of the video displays our true intent, breaking free of a pop culture focussed haze and regaining control of our minds. By blending the raw lyrical side of hip-hop with live instrumentation usually reserved for rock 'n' roll we feel we can convey a message that is true to our Alberta roots, yet relatable across Canada and maybe worldwide."

Who: Tyler Hache
Region: New Brunswick
Song: "Flashing Lights"
What the panelists had to say: "I think it's a radio hit and Tyler Hache's an engaging performer."

What does your song mean to you?

Tyler Hache: "My true passion is songwriting and my songs tend to be more emotionally driven. When I wrote 'Flashing Lights,' I wanted to write a song that was more accessible to a larger audience while maintaining my personality throughout the lyrics. 'Flashing Lights' is about a guy who doesn't enjoy going downtown or dancing, but only does so to impress a girl he’s trying to win over. This song also makes reference to the everyday guy that is falling for a girl and will do whatever it takes to make her happy, however awkward it might be."

Who: Desiree Dawson
Region: Greater Vancouver Area
Song: "Hide"
What the panelists had to say: "'Hide' is a simple recording, but it captures an endearing performance. Desiree's singing seems effortless, yet has an intimacy which is captivating. The music is simple and sweet, and completely unassuming. This becomes a beautiful hidden secret, busking in plain daylight."

What does your song mean to you?
Desiree Dawson:
"The idea behind the song 'Hide' is how hard it is to ever find true personal growth if your roots are constantly being uprooted or if you have no connection to your roots. If you have nothing really keeping you grounded. This idea came to me as I sat under a huge tree, admiring the swirling strong roots. I wrote this to let someone dear to me know that I would always be there. I would be the artificial roots until they could grow their own authentic ones. The more I sing this song, new meanings appear. We hide from love because of our fears. Love is so open and vulnerable. When we are truly living from love, hiding isn't even an option because of the vast open space love creates and that can sound terrifying. It's about giving love, welcoming love with open arms and coming out of that deep emotional hiding. Why do you hide?"

Who: Liberty
Region: Ottawa
Song: "Explode"
What the panelists had to say: "Loved the hook and thought the vocals were very strong. The song structure was solid and the lyrics were clever. In the end, the tune really stuck for me and I found the sense of joy in which they executed it to be very appealing."

What does your song mean to you?
"'Explode' is a song that has spilled forth out of a combination of our faith, love and excitement for things which are spiritual. Basically, when I wrote it, I wanted to create a fun and uplifting song (kind of a summer vibe) which is like a celebratory beckoning of the realities that we hope for. In other words, I'm stoked about the love that I've received from God and I desire others to experience the same thing. Our attitude behind our message is not forceful for the listeners, but there is a force in our delivery that comes from within us. Something we cannot contain because of our joy. ... If you listen to the chorus, you'll hear the line "shake us to our very core, break us into something whole." What I'm basically saying is that we all have our stubbornness and walls set up that keep us in a state of brokenness, unable to experience the fullness of love, our only hope is that the spirit of love comes and breaks down those walls."

Who: Tafari Anthony
Region: Toronto
Song: "Maybe When We Get Older"
What the panelists had to say: "The first thing you notice is Tafari's voice, which is powerful but also vulnerable. It's a combination that calls to mind artists like Adele and Sam Smith. Appropriately, 'Maybe When We Get Older' is a gorgeous ballad from the point of view of a heartbroken, hopeless romantic, and it really lets Tafari flex his vocal chops.

What does your song mean to you?
Tafari Anthony: "'Maybe When We Get Older' is quite a special song to me. It was a little vocal idea I had sitting on my iPhone for a few years. Recently, I had the right inspiration and collaborator to complete it, and I’m really happy with the results. With the help of my wonderful friend and collaborator, Ava Kay, we sat down together, and the lyrics, melody and music just flowed right out of us. What came out of it was a universal story that deals with love not shared by another, whether the timing was wrong, or the situation didn’t allow for it. I remember the moment we finished the demo and both of us felt like something really special had happened."

Who: Whisky Legs
Region: Quebec
Song: "Needy Woman"
What the panelists had to say: "This song is catchy. I was seduced by the grain of voice of the lead singer, Maude Brochu. Whisky legs has a true local sound."

What does this song mean to you?
Whisky Legs: "'Needy Woman' might seem like a very basic song if you only relate to the first degree of the lyrics. To us it is more about not being afraid of showing your true nature. It’s about being proud of who or what you really are even if it means something that is not "commun” or taboo."

Who: Cat Clyde
Region: Kitchener-Waterloo
Song: "Mama Said"
What the panelists had to say: "There's so much to like about this song. I love the subject, the songwriting, the performance, but the best thing I can say about it is that it was stuck in my head from the moment I heard it."

What does your song mean to you?
Cat Clyde:
"It is about a time in my life that I was very frustrated about a sudden and unnecessary change of scenery."

Who: Andi
Region: The Greater Toronto Area
Song: "Caffeine" featuring JonoJosh
What the panelists had to say: "From the bassline to the cryptic lyrics, I was there for the ride and for the vibe. JonoJosh's inclusion is a perfect addition and they both flow perfectly over a very addictive rhythm. Their chemistry is apparent and they both seem to understand the sound that works well for them."

What does your song mean to you?
Andi: "I’ve been calling this song an 'anti-duet' of sorts. The theme of the tune is two individuals who care deeply for each other, but are too prideful to admit it. Both are left stubborn and resentful, alone at the end of the day, expecting the other to make the first move. One in her bathroom at the end of a night out, the other in his bedroom unable to sleep – singing the anthem “If you’re trying to forget me, you’ve got too much time on your hands.” The irony in this is if they just opened up and let themselves be vulnerable to one another, they would experience a connection that would bring them peace instead of tearing them apart. In all, I see the track as a reminder of the value of vulnerability."

Who: Dylan Menzie
Region: Prince Edward Island
Song: "Kenya"
What the panelists had to say: "Canadian songwriters seem to sprout from the least expected places — from Fort McLeod to Dartmouth. Here is one from Charlottetown, one seemingly pulled from the future pages of the songbook. Big voiced and polished and with a song like 'Kenya,' Dylan seems quite ready for bigger stages."

What does your song mean to you?
Dylan Menzie:
"Kenya is a commentary on people’s need to get away. Growing up in a small place like Prince Edward Island where the population for the entire province is roughly the same as a small town in Ontario, I’ve watched a lot of people leave for job opportunities, schooling or just to see something else. The idea of leaving to see the world has become much more common in the last 30 years and it's not just small places. The urge to experience a different way of life is strong no matter where you are. Kenya addresses that change in our generation."

Who: Mike Edel
Region: Vancouver Island
Song: "Blue Above the Green"
What the panelists had to say: "Infectious and driving melody with a strong hook, and some rocking cello to boot."

What does this song mean to you?
Mike Edel: "'Blue Above The Green' is the perfect springtime/summer song – it's about ascension (of both hiking and love) and it's about infatuation turning into love. The song is specifically about a late night hike into Goldstream Park with the quest of finding this giant train trestle at the top of the mountain. I have always been fascinated by the energy of the spring and summer time."

Who: Port Cities
Region: Halifax
Song: "Back to the bottom"
What the panelists had to say: "A chorus that won’t go away, 'Back To The Bottom' is an instant earworm that gets its hooks in you right from the first note. The song is a swoon worthy male-female duet with the singers’ voices complementing each other perfectly, yet still unique enough to let know you are getting two different points of view. The verses are full of memorable lyrics and melodies but when the three part harmonies kick in on a chorus that you can’t help but sing along to, it seals the deal. One way or another this song will be on the radio sooner than later."

What does your song mean to you?
Port Cities: "'Back to the Bottom' is about having an unhealthy obsession with something you can’t get away from. It’s a special song for us because it was written at the Gordie Sampson Songcamp, which is a co-writing camp held by our producer/mentor Gordie Sampson in Cape Breton every summer. The camp is where we all met and decided to form a band, so it only seems fitting that the first song we put out into the world is one that we wrote there."

Who: Isabelle Young
Region: Montreal
Song: "Sirens"
What the panelists had to say: "Sirens" begins as this dreary, solemn ballad, it's lush instrumentation pulling you into its rainy landscape and completely surrounding you. But just when you think all is lost, it breaks through the fog and builds into this beautiful, triumphant conclusion with Isabelle's vocals shining above it all."

What does your song mean to you?
Isabelle Young: "'Sirens' is the first song that I ever wrote, recorded, produced and made a music video for. It is also the first experience I had with writing a song that just came to me, naturally, without have to sit down and work on different pieces to make it work. On a more personal note, I think this was because I was in a place where I needed an outlet to express myself. I am a person who gets deeply affected during the winter, and was definitely in a darker place when I wrote 'Sirens.' I was living alone in Montreal, it was a cold winter night, I had just gone through a break up and was reminiscing about how good and how free I felt when I was on a trip by the ocean that year."

Who: Andrew Judah
Region: Interior and Northern B.C.
Song: "Better & Better"
What the panelists had to say: "Icy and minimalist/miserablist pop that's pulling from Radiohead and Tindersticks. Builds its own colony on planet gloom and starts terraforming it. Nice lead drums at the end.

What does your song mean to you?
Andrew Judah:
"I kept hearing the phrase "everyday in every way I'm getting better and better." I first noticed it in a John Lennon song ("Beautiful Boy") and then I heard it on a TV show (Boardwalk Empire). It's a phrase by french psychologist Émile Coué. To me it seemed like a form of denial. Like somehow simply telling yourself that things would get better would make it so, without actually doing anything ... silly. I was listening to a lot of Randy Newman at the time, who is the master of ironic songwriting. So I wanted to try my hand at a similar lyrical style. I had a chord progression I'd been working on that seemed to fit it perfectly. It climbs and then descends lower and lower as the lyrics get more positive. The contrast seemed just right, so I turned it into a song."

Who: Johnny Don't
Region: Saskatchewan
Song: "Gone"
What the panelists had to say: "Love the sentiment and the upbeat melody that should seem odd by comparison, but somehow doesn’t. Performance really sold it – love it when an artist makes it look easy! And I have to add that I thought the video presentation was genius in its simplicity."

What does your song mean to you?
Johnny Don't: "Over the years we have travelled countless miles and have played well over a 1,000 shows. Because of those experiences on the road we have learned how to embrace life, roll with the punches, accept people for who they are and try to be the best person we can be. This song has a universal message of how life is too short and you don’t have to take everything so seriously. It’s about having fun and making the most of your life. It’s about being fearless and trying as many things as possible. It’s about having confidence in yourself without ego. It’s about kindness towards others. At the end of the day, love and happiness is all that anybody wants and sometimes people lose site of that. This song was written to put everything back into perspective."

Who: Ambush (popular vote)
Region: Ottawa
Song: "Rollin like a Wagon Wheel"
What does your song mean to you?
"Our song is very personal to us. We lost a great friend Brenda Wallace to cancer. The morning she passed away Mark wrote this song after receiving a phone call with the devastating news. Mark wrote this song in less then 20 minutes, it was the easiest but at the same time the hardest song he ever wrote. Originally recorded as a gift to Brenda's family, we were encouraged by them and many others as a tribute to Brenda and anyone that has been touched by horrible disease to enter this song in Searchlight."

Who: Teo Milea (popular vote)
Region: Toronto
Song: "Ireversibil"

What does your song mean to you?
Teo Milea: "‘Irreversible’ is my presentation card in a world where time is of the essence. If you can get standing ovations with a 4:30 minute song, then I guess it represents you well enough. I remember composing ‘Irreversible’ while riding my bike on my way home, four years ago. It took me only 25 minutes to make it and it became my engagement gift to my then girlfriend, now wife. I think the main idea of the song is that you must live every day as if it were your last, because time is irreversible. Try to conquer the world and fulfill your dreams giving kindness, and this will bring you to your success, to people’s hearts." Hence my motto: Music is a cure for the soul!"

Watch all the finalists at and listen to the playlist, below.