| Cynthia Leigh-Ann|
She gently plays with your emotions and worms her way into your heart, then carries you along with surprising power.
When Cynthia sits and chats with you over coffee, she doesn't jar your nerves and set your teeth on edge the way some edgy young singers do. She has this wide-eyed, somewhat breathless, spirit of gratitude that simply makes you like her.
Going by the stage name, Cynthia Leigh-Ann, this West Kelowna girl has her dreams by the tail and appears to be surprising herself with her success.
It's not as if a singing career is a surprise. She's always wanted to do this. She sang before she could talk. She recorded at age 14 in Nashville, a dream many singers wait on for years. She recorded two singles, Love Like This and Better Off This Way.
"Sometimes it feels surreal. I can't believe it's my life. I still feel like a baby in this process, but it's been nearly eight years," said Cynthia, now 21 and a student at the University of Calgary.
She speaks with respect and affection of her parents, Katrina and Stacey Bjalek, West Kelowna residents. "They kept me grounded. They formed me and brought me up. We never got things because we just asked; we had to clean house or do jobs to earn things.
"From Mom I learned how to be compassionate and how to love, even people who are different.
"Dad is stern and rock-hard, and showed me balance and how to stand up for yourself and for what's right."
Cynthia is the middle sister of three and from her sisters she learned to share.
Some of her teachers at Immaculata Regional High School in Kelowna became her mentors and gave advice when friends were drawn to her for counsel.
"I remember one friend who told me he didn't want to live anymore, but a teacher told me I could not save him unless he was willing." He eventually turned away from suicidal thoughts, and Cynthia turned the experience into a song, I Can't Save You.
Her songs all come from her life, which explains the passion inherent in them. Daddy's Girl is, of course, about her dad. Missing You is about a boy she had a big crush on.
"My friends are iffy about what's in my songs," she said with a smile, explaining they may be worrying the songs are about them.
Writing songs is a way to release feelings, a way to tell her story, she explained.
Beyond feelings, Cynthia has developed clear-cut goals and steps to get there. Part of this is the influence of her manager, who just happens to be her grandmother, Anne Schroeder.
After Cynthia gets her Bachelor of Arts in music she plans to go to the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology for an audio-engineering degree. Someday she wants to open her own music school and be a risk-taker in helping young people.
Meanwhile, she sings and sings and sings. She's working on her second album in the new country-rock/pop sound.
In Los Angeles recently, she co-wrote Forever Young with producers Guy Baruch and Brad Bilanin of Media Temple Productions, and just completed her latest song, What You Don't Know, written with Justine Collins, Ralph Murphy and Doug Folkins.
Her debut album was Daddy's Girl. Her first single, Missing You, was released to national radio in 2011 with the RDR Music Group.
She has released five singles to radio, including Christmas Memories.
Her second album is set for release in February, 2014, working with producer Tom McKillips and Carly McKillips. Cynthia will do a duet remake by Emmylou Harris and Don Williams, If I Needed You, with Nashville singer-songwriter Teddy Grimstad, added to the finished album.
Cynthia has raked in a litany of awards, and performed at places as diverse as the Calgary Stampede, the Be Discovered -Summer in L.A., and Westside Daze. Hear and see Cynthia at Lake Okanagan Resort in an acoustic show on Friday.
A line from her song, Forever Young, says, "Let the music take me where I want to go." It captures Cynthia's dream and Â appears to be coming true daily.