Mandisa can’t really pinpoint a time when she wasn’t singing. It was part of who she was from an early age.
“I used to lock myself in the bathroom and put on my Whitney Houston cassette tapes, and my curling iron was my microphone,” she said. “I can’t really remember necessarily a moment where I realized I could sing. It’s really what I’ve always wanted to do.”
Singing in church as a young person was a major influence in her budding career. People in her family were involved with church choirs and leading worship, but no one had done it professionally. However, that didn’t dissuade Mandisa from believing that was what she eventually wanted to do: sing professionally.
“I’ve always wanted to be a singer,” she said. “When people would ask me, especially at a very early age, what I wanted to do, I would always say that. And then as I got older, people would ask me what my backup plan was, and I said, ‘I don’t have a backup plan.’ I grew up wanting to be Whitney Houston, and so I guess things changed for me after American Idol.”
Prior to being on American Idol, Mandisa was singing background for various artists, including Don Moen and Twila Paris. She also sang on the worship team for speaker and author Beth Moore.
She had actually just performed her last event with Moore before flying to Hollywood for what the American Idol producers call “Hollywood Week,” a time when the contestants are put through numerous performance tests—sing in front of the judges by themselves, with groups, without a band—to determine who will make the live TV shows.
Mandisa was on season five of American Idol, a time when the show was still in its relative infancy and was pulling in huge television ratings.
Standing up on stage that night, Mandisa had made the top ten, a significant feat for anyone after beating out thousands of other contestants. However, her time on the show was about to come to an end. Ryan Seacrest, the show’s longtime host, announced Mandisa was eliminated. She had taken ninth place.
At the time, Mandisa didn’t know exactly what her next steps would be.
“I had different kinds of labels calling and wanting to do meetings, but I just realized I probably couldn’t; I wouldn’t fit very well in what would be considered R&B mainstream music,” she said. “It’s just my values are different. I don’t necessarily want to sing about the kinds of things you hear on R&B radio.”
That’s when she had a spark of an idea, something that would ultimately lead her to a successful music career as a Christian recording artist.
Mandisa heard Randy Jackson, a judge at the time on America Idol, tell the season’s top two competitors that they should do the music that comes most naturally for them.
“That’s when I realized the music that I wanted to do was about Jesus,” she said. “I wouldn’t say that that was a backup plan, necessarily. It’s just my desires changed, and my goals changed. That was just a matter of the Lord putting that on my heart. I feel like He gave me the talent, but as I grew [in] Him, that’s when I realized I wanted to use that talent for Him.”
Popularity and CDs
Since her time on American Idol ended in 2006, Mandisa has released four CDs and won two Grammy Awards.
She admits that she is unique in the Christian music scene because of the music she performs.
“When you look at like Contemporary Christian Music, I’m a little bit different than a lot of the other artists in CCM,” she said. “But I will say there are a lot of people who have kind of paved the way for the kind of music that I do, like when I look at Anointed or Cece Winans to an extent, or really like Nicole C. Mullen.”
Even though her music, which has a R&B flair to it, isn’t yet widely played in all CCM markets, she believes things are changing.
“I’m seeing CCM radio be a little bit more open to different types of music, more variety in that,” she said. “I feel like the doors are opening for more artists like that. I’m very, very thankful.”
Mandisa’s most recent CD is titled “Overcomer.” When she was putting it together, she noticed that a lot of the songs had the theme of fighting and warfare and “recognizing that in the body of Christ, we’re in a battle and that the weapons we fight with are not swords and guns, but prayer and the Word of God and worship,” she said.
The title track “Overcomer” was inspired by Mandisa’s friend, Kisha, who is battling cancer.
“My friend Kisha, who inspired the song, she’s not going to be an overcomer when she’s cancer free,” Mandisa said. “She’s an overcomer right now because, one, based on what the Word of God says, especially in First John, an overcomer is somebody that has Jesus living in their heart. But it’s also somebody who chooses to fight every single day.”
The theme of overcoming has struck a chord with many around the country. Mandisa was recently sent a video from a public school in Arkansas where the students were using the song in an effort to uplift a teacher who is fighting cancer.
“Just seeing all those kids, hundreds and hundreds of kids, coming together to encourage somebody who is fighting cancer … I was crying looking at it, because that’s really what it’s about,” she said. “I can just imagine that that teacher looking at that video and being reminded of who she is because of what Jesus has done.”
The video, she said, is a reminder that what she does is more than just about the accolades or the number of CDs sold.
“It’s encouraging people, and it’s giving them hope,” she said.
Over the years, Mandisa has been trying to streamline what she feels called to do. While singing and performing are integral to her career, she also feels led to help people in other ways, as well.
“I really feel like my main calling is encouragement,” she said. “I think I’m understanding how spiritual gifts come into play. When I look at most of my songs, they have a ‘You’re going to be OK, stay in there, God is with you’ kind of a message to it. I didn’t necessarily set out for that. When I look back at those songs, I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
“When I hear from people who are going through difficult things, encouragement is a big need in the body of Christ. I think when people walk away from me, I definitely want them walking away knowing they need to stay in the fight to the final round, and that they’re going to make it. Don’t quit, don’t give in. You’re an overcomer.”
Mandisa is certainly an overcomer in her own life. Not giving in to the pull and draw of a music career that would possibly compromise her values, Mandisa has paved her own way in music, a path now available for many others to follow.
Learn more at www.mandisaofficial.com.
— by Scott Noble