Minneapolis woman wows 'em on 'Idol'

A regular at the Dakota and in Target commercials, Sophia Shorai has already made a name for herself outside her mother's shadow.

Minneapolis torch singer Sophia Shorai impressed the "American Idol" judges during her Hollywood performance that was televised Thursday night.

Shorai, who cleared the audition phase in Milwaukee, sang "Georgia On My Mind" and advanced to the next round of the popular Fox talent show. Judge and Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler called her interpretation of the soul standard "beautiful."

In next week's show, Shorai and her 59 fellow survivors will be competing in a Beatles challenge in Las Vegas.

Shorai, 28, is the daughter of former 1970s militant and fugitive Sara Jane Olson and her husband, Fred Peterson. Using her middle name in her career, she has become known in Twin Cities music venues and won spots in national TV commercials.

Shoria attended Perpich Center for the Arts high school in Golden Valley, won a demo contest sponsored by Grammy organizers at First Avenue in 2003 and landed jobs singing in commercials. Minneapolis-based audio production company Modern Music recruited her to sing a remake of the Beatles' "Hello Goodbye" for Target and "16, Going on 17" from "The Sound of Music" for State Farm Insurance.

"One of her great talents is she's able to sing music that works in a commercial or a TV show -- which a lot of times can come out bland -- and really sing it with heart and conviction and make it her own," said Modern Music's Eric Fawcett.

Shorai is also a regular around the Twin Cites in such supper clubs as the Red Stag, Barbette and especially the Dakota, where she is scheduled to perform again Thursday.

Dakota co-owner Lowell Pickett said he admires Shoria for her talent and her strength.

"I've been very impressed by how strong she has become and how she has gotten past that major part of her life," he said. "She's probably better equipped to handle the pressure of 'American Idol' better than anyone."

In her online "Idol" video bio, Shorai said, "I'm absolutely in awe of my parents and their ability to not only love each other dearly after 40 years [but to] promote each other's good qualities."

As for Shorai's family past impacting her pursuit of TV fame, "Idol" spokeswoman Chloe Ellers said, "We don't comment on the personal lives of our contestants."

Messages have been left with Shorai seeking an interview; however, "Idol" contestants are under restrictions about talking to the news media.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482 Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658

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