It’s hard to believe that it’s been just over a year since Mandisa shot to instant fame when millions of TV viewers across the nation were captivated by her winning smile and powerhouse vocals as she sang her way into the final rounds of “American Idol’s” fifth season. Not only did she garner a multitude of new fans who now simply refer to her as “Mandisa,” but she wowed critics with her stunningly expressive voice.
"Mandisa is powerful and has tremendous breath and pitch control, and there's no reason that woman should be working as anything other than a singer," Daily Variety associate editor Phil Gallo told USA Today after watching Mandisa’s performances on “Idol.”
Entertainment Weekly also chimed in with praise (“It’s all about Mandisa!”), claiming Mandisa turned American Idol into a one-woman show. “Following her powerful performance of Chaka Khan’s soulful classic ‘I’m Every Woman,’” EW raved, ”if you weren't doing a little bit of couch dancing when 'Disa! cut loose on the piping hot arrangement, then you'd better check the cushions for your soul.”
“I never expected that kind of support,” Mandisa shares. “Honestly, I looked around and was really honored and humbled that they would pick me because there was so much great talent there.”
It’s not surprising that Mandisa made such an impression on the millions who heard her TV performances. Music has been the backbone of her life since growing up in Sacramento, California. “I don’t ever remember not singing,” she says, recalling the years she spent performing in church and school choirs before heading to Nashville, Tenn., to attend Fisk University and earn a degree in vocal performance.
While in Nashville, Mandisa has done session work and performed backup for a wide variety of artists including Shania Twain, Trisha Yearwood, Take 6, Larnelle Harris, Sandi Patty, Charlie Daniels, Travis Cottrell and more. She has also traveled across the nation with various worship conferences and women’s events and retreats (Integrity Music, Living Proof Live featuring Beth Moore, LifeWay Christian Women’s Conventions) as a worship leader.
Her faith plays a major role in her life, a role that was evident to Mandisa’s fellow ‘Idol’ contestants, the judges and viewers. And even though it didn’t always come with positive results, Mandisa never shied away from being true to herself.
“My faith certainly went through some tests of fire,” she shares, “but it’s stronger because of that and it’s also made me want to know more about it and how to articulate it. I think I came out of that whole experience understanding Jesus better. I’d been a little sheltered in Christian circles for a while and it helped me realize the kind of impact that Christians can make when they actually step out of their boxes and get involved in the world around them.
“When you do ‘Idol,’ they say they want you to be who you are and not to pretend to be someone else,” Mandisa continues. “So I couldn’t make any apologies then (or now) about who I am and how important my faith is to me. I know that my value isn’t determined by that show or anything else that others might have said about me, and I think that knowledge helped me be more relaxed throughout the whole process.”
Since her American Idol experience, doors have continued to open for Mandisa. She recently joined musical legend Gladys Knight and other performers such as Lalah Hathaway, Shirley Murdock and The Boys Choir of Harlem on stage at Harlem’s historic Apollo Theater at the First Annual Benefit Gala “Back to Harlem,” sponsored by the Ashley Stewart Stores Community Foundation. The premiere event raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for three outstanding charities: the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, Dress for Success and The Boys Choir of Harlem.
Mandisa has also signed on to be a spokesmodel for Ashley Stewart Stores, the trend-setting fashion retailer that outfitted a number of her performances on American Idol.
Since the end of the American Idol Season 5 Concert Tour in September of 2006, Mandisa has continued performing solo dates across the country and is preparing to enter the studio in the coming weeks to begin recording her debut solo album with EMI-CMG.
“More than just a career, I really want to have a ministry that has an impact on people,” Mandisa declares. “I want to be able to use the platform the Lord has given me to speak to people about race issues within the body of Christ and also about health issues. I just want to follow through with what is in my heart. I never want to look back and wonder, ‘What would have happened if….’”
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