My Interview With “American Idol” finalist Mandisa

If you’re an American Idol fan then you’ll likely remember Mandisa–season five’s unforgettable contestant. Her warmth and rich tone entertained viewers each week as Mandisa Hundley sang her way up to the top ten.

When Mandisa was faced with the usual “I don’t mean to be rude, but…” verbiage that Simon Cowell hands out, she chose love in what was a surprising and public response. Forgiving Cowell for pointing out that the stage might not hold her plus-sized figure, Mandisa took the opportunity to forgive Simon, as a reflection of her faith in Jesus Christ and His forgiveness to mankind. Yep–she rocks!!

After leaving the Idol stage, Mandisa has been anything but idle, working on her new book with co-author Angela Hunt entitled, Idoleyes: My New Perspective on Faith, Fat & Fame (Tyndale House), and releasing her CD-single, Only the World.

Idoleyes takes us into the world of an American Idol contestant as Mandisa shares an open and honest account of her experience, and the path that led her to audition. She also gets real about a topic so many of us women face daily, which is a life-long addiction to food. Readers can draw strength from Mandisa as she leads us to the realization that our worth is found in the eyes of a loving Father. And for all of you Beth Moore fans, you’ll love the fact that she’s written the foreword!

What about Mandisa’s new CD-single? I have Only the World in the CD player of my car, where it’s going to stay for a good long while! The fresh sound and upbeat rhythm is so encouraging and fun, I want to drive more often. 🙂

We’re honored to have such a beautiful, talented, and warm-hearted woman of faith, grace our pages this month. So, without further ado, here is my interview with Mandisa…

What were you doing before American Idol?
I was singing full time. I did recording studio work, background for various artists (Don Moen, Twila Paris, Sara Groves, etc.) on the road, and traveled leading worship for churches and women’s conferences.

I applaud you for the bold step of faith you took on American Idol by showing forgiveness. You’re one faith-filled woman! Was there ever a point when you wanted to run?
When I first heard the horrible comments that Simon made about my weight on national television, I was caught off guard and devastated because I had no idea that he talked about me behind my back. I found out with the rest of America.  Needless to say, hearing the worst things I think about myself on national television was very difficult for me and did make me want to run and hide.  But after praying with some friends of mine that night, I knew there was much more at stake than me becoming an “American Idol.”

Those who struggle with weight will not soon forget that famous “fat” comment. I can only imagine the devastation you felt. How does one deal with this particular issue, and still maintain self-esteem?
I maintain my self-esteem by relying on the mirror of God’s Word more than the bathroom mirror to gain perspective on true beauty.  I know that my body is a temple and that God has called each of us to be good stewards of our bodies.  On a daily basis I rely on Him to help me walk in victory in that area.  BUT, I absolutely, positively, do not believe that my value is based on my physical appearance.  1 Peter 3:3-4 gives us the real definition of beauty; it is not based at all on our outward appearance but our inner spirit. I cultivate inner beauty by a relationship with Jesus. He makes me beautiful.  I feel so strongly about this issue that I wrote a song about it on my CD and derived the title True Beauty from this very message. For too long we have allowed society to dictate to us what beauty is.  It’s time for us to let the world see our true beauty.

Absolutely, Mandisa! I’ve heard that song you’re talking about. It really does help us to refocus our view on the topic of beauty. I need that reminder often, and so I appreciate that message in your lyrics–especially when they’re teamed up with such a great sound!

I enjoyed every one of your idol performances, but I’d like to know which one was your favorite?
I had two favorites.  I loved doing “I’m Every Woman” and “I Don’t Hurt Anymore”.

You always appeared calm, cool, and collected on Idol, were you?
I was always nervous right before I sang!  In the moments leading up to the music intro I would always be a little nauseous. But it’s funny… the nerves went away as soon as I opened my mouth to sing the first note. That still happens to me to this day. Whenever I am doing a show I am sick to my stomach leading up to the moments I hit the stage. But once I am on it, I love it!

What doors has the idol experience opened for you?
When I got off of the American Idol tour I had a modeling deal with Ashley Stewart stores, a book publishing deal with Tyndale House Publishers, and a record deal with EMI/Sparrow Records. I’ve been on photo shoots and Ashley Stewart appearances (including singing on the Apollo stage with Gladys Knight), my book Idoleyes-My New Perspective on Faith, Fat, and Fame came out in June, and my CD “True Beauty” came out July 31st. None of that would have happened if it hadn’t been for my time on American Idol.

I also recently saw you on Regis and Kelly, and as usual you had a great performance.

Oh–I have to ask–what was it like meeting Barry Manilow?
(Hahaha…you must be a “Fanilow!”) While I was on AI I met several celebrities including Stevie Wonder, Kenny Rogers, Chris Rock, Brandy, the members of Queen, and many others. I can honestly say that Barry Manilow was my favorite. He spent so much time with us and I could tell that he really cared. I did not know much about him before I met him, but afterwards, I became a fan(ilow).

Let’s talk about the book… Other than the obvious experience with American Idol that we all want to read about, what can one hope to gain either emotionally or spiritually from reading Idoleyes?
The subtitle of my book is “My New Perspective on Faith, Fat, and Fame.” Those are three areas that I grew so much in during my time on Idol. My faith was tested and put through the fire but came out more pure and stronger than when I went in. My spiritual journey is one that many can relate to and hopefully be encouraged by. The second area is fat. I have struggled with my weight since I was a very young girl.  From the very beginning of my time on Idol, Simon Cowell put that issue in the forefront of my journey. I certainly would not have chosen to air my dirty laundry in such a public format, but I have found camaraderie among people who struggle with that very issue.  It is an ongoing battle with me, and one I hope to walk in fellowship, with the millions of others who deal with food related issues like I do.

Lastly, I have learned that fame is not all it is cracked up to be. I have come to the realization that when I get to the end of my life, I will not be bragging about the number of albums I sold or the amount of people who know my name. As I lay on my death bed, I will want to be surrounded by my loved ones and reflect on memories we shared. Most importantly, I will want to be able to look into the face of Jesus and be ready to go “home.” Fame is fleeting. It’s the intangible things we cannot touch that make life really worth living. As I have heard back from people who have read Idoleyes, I have been so encouraged to know that many are being touched by it.  God has not called me to pretend that I have it all together. He has called me to be transparent and shown that the Christian life is a journey, but one that can be walked in victory as long as you hold tightly to the One who has walked it before.

You mention in the book that you consider yourself to be an introvert, has this stemmed from the struggles you’ve faced with weight issues?
Actually I believe it is just how God created me. I don’t think that being introverted is unhealthy or a result of a negative experience. It is just part of the personality that God wove into me in my mother’s womb. I am not shy or withdrawn. I am simply reenergized by spending time alone. I enjoy being with people but unlike extroverts, I am not energized by it.

Your faith is unmistakable in both your writing and in your life, can you tell us about the journey that led to your acceptance of Jesus Christ as your personal savior?
I always say that God was pursuing me. Something as minute as a science-fiction novel in high school sparked my interest in Jesus, but it was a performance of “The Singing Christmas Tree” held at a local church that threw the floodgates wide open. After watching the musical interpretation of the life of Jesus, I knew that I didn’t want to continue my life without Him in it.  At the age of sixteen I asked Jesus into my heart and into my life. It has been the wildest ride ever since!

You never know what God might use to draw us close to him, but I agree–it is a wild ride at times!

Many of our readers are huge Beth Moore fans. Can you tell us about your connection to her?
After graduation I was working in the customer service department at LifeWay Church Resources. During LifeWay’s annual spring revival, they brought in special musical guest (and Beth Moore worship leader) Travis Cottrell. Because I occasionally sang in LifeWay’s weekly chapel services, they asked me to be a part of an employee praise team to sing with him. Shortly after that week, Travis called me at work and asked me to be a part of the praise team for a Beth Moore event that weekend in Charlotte, NC. From that weekend on I sang on his praise team for over 5 years.

Meeting Beth was a dream come true. I had done her Bible study Breaking Free in college and was transformed by it. Beth is the godliest woman I know, and I have so much admiration and respect for her. I am just one of the many people who have been changed by the Lord through her ministry. When I saw her passion and love for God and His Word, I began asking the Father to birth the same in me.  I am eternally grateful that the Lord allowed me to glean from her teaching for a season. If it were not for that season, I would not be the woman I am today.

Is there a Bible verse that God has recently placed on your heart?
During my quiet time recently, the Holy Spirit brought a very familiar passage to mind; 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

Through this passage God impressed the importance of walking in love in all that I do. I can sell a million albums, have my book on the best sellers list, my picture on the front of magazines, but if I don’t do what I do in love, it is all worthless.

More than I want people to know that I am a Christian because of what I say, I want them to know I am a Christian because of how I live…because of how I love.

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