Annie Bosko Two voices – one given, one earned. Singer, songwriter and performer Annie Bosko has married the two, recognizing what so many others fail to see – that a powerful and beautiful vocal instrument is, in isolation, incapable of taking her where she has every intention of going. "People expected me to blow up instantly," the rural California native says. "But having to do everything from the ground up has been so good for me. It's all been for a reason and has made me who I am." Opportunity certainly knocks for talent like hers, as opening or backing vocal slots with Darius Rucker, Adele, Josh Groban, Dierks Bentley, Big & Rich, Josh Turner and more confirm. She has performed the national anthem at the NBA All-Star game, recorded for one of the largest entertainment companies in the world, sang demos for some of the biggest hits on the radio and even did a turn on television's top singing competition. All of those accomplishments fall short, however, for a true music maker with the loftiest ambitions. As she readies the release of her first EP, her artistry and vision have crystallized in songs including "Crooked Halo" and "Fighter." Themes of strength, empowerment, vulnerability and self-determination run throughout. And they're understandable, given her past, as well as her deep-rooted need to create and perform. "I’m much happier onstage than I am off, so it’s completely an addiction in that sense," she says. "Writing songs is the same way. It’s never really been a choice – I have to do it. So treat every show like it's your last and give it your all. You never know when Bruce Springsteen’s going to be in the audience. True story." But more on that later. Annie's father is a third-generation farmer and she's the middle of five children, but it was not the classic story of the musical family. "My mom kind of sings and was in a band once," she says. "But my parents didn’t know what to do with me. It was like, 'Oh my God, we have this freak singing child. What do we do with it?' They were scared getting into entertainment too early would mess me up." Her first taste of the business was singing for a Disney soundtrack at the age of 14. "They wanted to work with me – put me in their dance and acting camps, but my mother was terrified and said no. At the time I, of course, thought she's ruined my life and destroyed my dreams." Fortunately, she was just getting started. An affinity for songwriting pulled her toward Nashville. "I remember hearing Patsy Cline's voice for the first time like it was yesterday," she says, noting that Cline was the first singer she ever heard. "I could hear the emotion in what she was singing and knew that's what I wanted to do. I’d read the liner notes on albums I loved by Deana Carter, Trisha Yearwood, Brooks & Dunn, Garth Brooks, Shania Twain, whoever. They were all in Nashville, so I knew I had to get there at some point." She was writing songs and performing, but found little fulfillment in California. "I had four siblings, my dad worked constantly and my mom couldn't take me on auditions or move me to Nashville," she says. "I was always extremely dedicated to my music and fortunate enough to work with music legends Diane Warren and David Foster, but, I knew it was a dead end. I just felt empty singing other peoples' songs." Moving cross-country – "I drove here alone and lived with a single mom I didn't know," Annie sang demos and tried to work into writing appointments. "When you're the new girl in town, everyone's interested, and I was working with a lot of people. But I really didn’t have my voice as an artist. I didn’t really have a direction." Seeing so many artists take their shots through TV competitions, and being almost constantly encouraged to go that route, Bosko finally agreed. "I made it to 'American,' but not 'Idol,'" she jokes, not so subtly brushing aside the harshness of that reality. "It was a strange process and disappointing," she admits. "You begin to understand that it's not really about music – at all." Being handcuffed to the show in her contract was also quite limiting. "I remember getting a call from California telling me I couldn't play a bar show in Nashville," she says. "I was thinking, 'The season finale of American Idol is airing. Why do they even care?'" Frustrated, she went back to waiting tables and cleaning houses to pay the bills. And her determination grew even more. "I basically started writing my ass off really, channeling that fire and being pissed off at the business," she says. "When the time was right, I put together a band and started playing shows." Working conventional channels began to feel counter to her nature. "I've always run against the grain," she says. "So I realized I have to get to the public, not knock down doors at record labels." She also resolved to take hold of her music and message. "I've sat in those rooms with the big name writers where they try to put it all together and tell you, 'That's great! That's it!' But the artist is the captain of the ship. And taking that wheel was hard – you don't want to say difficult things and upset people, but you have to. Everything from music to pictures to the band is a representation of me, and so my fingerprints have to be on all of it." And so it is with her new music, led by the stomping, feisty single "Crooked Halo," which she wrote with Danny Myrick (Jason Aldean's “She’s Country,” Craig Morgan's “International Harvester”) and Danelle Leverett (Big & Rich's "That's Why I Pray," Kelly Clarkson's "The Sun Will Rise"). "Someone at my little sister's graduation described her as an angel with a crooked halo, and I thought it described her really well," Annie says. "It also fits me and a lot of women. We're good girls, but we have an edge, too. We're not afraid to stand up for ourselves or what we believe in." The ballad "Fighter," co-written with Myrick and Monica Madrid, may be the song that best expresses her determination. "Monica was telling us about her dad's battle with cancer. So it's sort of a ministry to people, because everyone is fighting in their own way. The idea was to really let this song be a banner that we can all carry in those times when we need it most." And Annie has certainly needed that spirit to keep working toward the kind of career she hopes to have. "I look to Sheryl Crow as a great example of that," she says. "Like her, I put in a lot of time as the working singer. We were even born on the same day, and I've always tried to emulate her. I mean, she’s in her 50s and still making relevant records. How cool is that? I would be really happy and feel very fortunate to have that kind of longevity." And then there's Mr. Springsteen, who isn't a bad role model, either. "He was at a show I played at a bar in the middle of Idaho, of all places," she says. "He stayed for the whole set and was very complimentary. He said I really knew how to rock, which coming from The Boss was a very high compliment. "That means a lot because I relate to him so much," she continues. "We both grew up in Catholic homes and we both come from European immigrants. My grandpa couldn’t afford shoes, couldn’t really speak English and never went to college. But he bought a few acres, built something with his own hands and was able to send my dad to college. Coming from that and watching my dad work seven days a week makes me want to work. The weather isn't always favorable, but you reap what you sow. These songs are my seedlings and I'll do everything it takes to bring them to harvest."