Ruslana Lyzhichko is an international superstar. Just not in North America.
In Toronto, her current tour pit stop, she could easily blend in with the city - though her shiny black hair (currently the subject of a L'Oreal ad campaign) and flawless skin just might garner a few glances.
"I would never go on the streets in some countries; Sweden, Germany, Russia, Turkey...never," she says of her fame.
"But my mum loves it. She tells people, ‘Oh, I'm Ruslana's mom,' and she gets everything for free!"
But who is Ruslana and why does her mother get such special treatment?
On one hand she's a sexpot pop singer whose single Wild Dances won the Ukraine's first gold at the Eurovision Song Contest in 2004, making her the first Ukrainian mainstream pop star in all of Europe. (Eurovision, if you're curious, is a huge spectacle in Europe, luring in 1.5 billion viewers.)
Today, Ruslana, who released her second English album this September to Canada, is trying to get as much Canadian coverage as she can before her concert at the Mississauga Living Arts Centre.
With a thick Ukrainian accent - she frequently forgets placing articles in front of nouns - she often has to turn to her tour manager for help with finding the right word. But when she starts talking about her charity work and listing off what she's doing to help her native country, she gets into her own.
She served as a member of the Ukrainian parliament from 2006 to 2007, is a UNICEF good will ambassador, funds a sick kids hospital that helps victims of Chernobyl and she's donating all of her album sales in Canada to her foundation that helps victims of the Ukrainian flood that happened this July.
"Believe me, it's so difficult to get people together - the mass media, fans, everyone. But I think music can push everyone."
Earlier this year with UNICEF she released the single Not for Sale, launching an anti-human trafficking campaign.
"I'm from the Ukraine, and I know what the problem means. It's a bad situation in the world ... I needed to do something."
A Canadian journalist (the name escapes her) gave her a book called Natasha, which inspired her to educate people about human trafficking.
Lucky for Ruslana, her activism scored her exclusive collaborations with an urban superstar on her new album.
"Missy Elliot and her mom read about me on my website, and then she said, ‘okay, I'll sing with her," she explains.
"We first met in Russia in St. Petersburg, and she had makeup on and I was wearing a white dress and she kissed me, and all of her makeup was on my white dress! Missy said ‘Oh sorry!' I just said, ‘No problem!'"
Ruslana slides her album into the stereo next to her, and flips to track four.
"The melody behind Missy is a really ethnic Ukrainian melody," she says.
"We used some ethnic elements. I like the song, mixing R & B with my music, it's really interesting."
T-Pain also teamed up with her.
"He's an amazing guy," she says. "When we met in LA he had a performance that night and his manager was worried. He told him don't drink too much tequila with wild girls from Ukraine!"
She laughs a hearty guttural laugh, remembering recording the collaboration that could put her on the North American music map this year.
And if her brand of pop doesn't catch on, at least she has an O.K. career in Europe to fall back on.