Eight young hopefuls shook their booty and belted out a diverse mix of tunes in an attempt to win the hearts and minds of audience members and become the first “Cree Idol.”

The contest in Moosonee March 2-3 drew over 600 audience members. Attawapiskat’s Karen Sutherland was head and shoulders above the rest as she was crowned Cree Idol in the inaugural edition of the event.

“I’m pretty excited, pretty happy about it,” said Sutherland, 25, when reached by phone. “It hasn’t really hit me yet though.”

Sutherland said that her singing style is eclectic, leaning from light fare – “The Rose” by Bette Midler, which she sang in the semi-finals – to the salty: she belted out her own rendition of “Look into your Heart” by Roxette in the final to seal the deal.

“I chose songs that I know very well, I didn’t want to go up there with something I just learnt,” she said. “It’s safer to go up there with something you’ve been singing for quite a while and that’s what I did.”

Sutherland learned her lesson when she chose a Christina Aguilera song four years ago at Canadian Idol that was out her range and as a result, got her booted out of the competition.

“You have to really work your vocals,” said Sutherland, who started intense training two weeks before the competition.

She honed her skills by learning from her older sister Iris at the tender age of 11. Two of her brothers — she comes from a family of seven siblings -are also singers, but they did not meet the required 16-28 age limit of the competition.

Although she does not sing at events in or around Attawapiskat, she felt the desire to push herself further during the competition.

“In the beginning I was worried about the mic, worried about messing up the words,” she said. “But I just tried to focus and feel for what I was singing and I did that and it came out the way I wanted to and I was happy with my performances.

‘At first I wasn’t giving it 100 per cent, but as I went along I started to realize how important it is to me and I saw things I didn’t before,” she said. “It opened my eyes and made me see that I shouldn’t wait (for her musical chance). It was a really good experience.”

Stan Kapashesit is co-owner of Solstice Productions, the company that helped produce the event. He was happy with the results and said that no matter what happens, his management company will be sitting down with Sutherland in the coming weeks to sign her up.

‘After Canadian Idol is done, we’re going to be talking to Karen,” he said. Hopefully we’ll work out a partnership and get her booked at shows.”

Sutherland was on her way down to try out at Canadian Idol at press time.

Moose River Broadcasting Association, who partnered with Solstice Productions to make the event a reality, will be releasing a DVD of the event held at the James Bay Education Centre.

Kapashesit admitted he was surprised at the talent level displayed during the competition.

“There is a lot of talent the Cree people have and it’s encouraging to see not only them singing, but the youth who are watching them,” he said. “They see them on stage and hear them perform and hopefully it inspires them to consider music as a viable career option.”

And for inspiring Cree or Canadian Idol entrants, Sutherland has a message:“Just know if you really want it before you actually do it. If it’s something you really want to do, that in itself will take you far. It’s also very important to be confident and have family support.”