Northern California native Mandisa first caught the attention of listeners with her powerful vocals on “American Idol” in 2006. After placing ninth on the popular show, Mandisa's career was far from over. In 2007 she released her debut album True Beauty, which features “Only the World.” She followed that with Freedom (2009) which includes “My Deliverer” and What If We Were Real (2011) with “Stronger.”
The American Idol experience had its set of unique challenges...
While on the show host Simon Cowell commented on the singer's size which Mandisa says was her worst fear come true. “It's been the biggest struggle of my life and because it's something I feel so vulnerable about,” she says. “For him to have said [Do we need a bigger stage this year?] and for it to air on national television -- I was devastated. After the show was over, just a bunch of my friends gathered around me and they began to pray for me. They began to pray for Simon. They asked the Lord to have mercy on him, and they began to ask the Lord to help me to forgive Simon. I realized in that moment that this was about so much more than me and my hurt feelings."
Mandisa publicly forgave Simon and chooses to focus on the positive that has come from that season in her life...
“I don't know what I would be doing right now if I had not been on Idol. It was the perfect launching pad for me, even with the good, the bad and the ugly,” she says. “On a musical level, there are a lot of shows like Idol right now, but it seems like 'American Idol' is still the one producing stars. I came in ninth place and I'm doing well.”
With the songs on her album Overcomer (2013), Mandisa writes and sings about rising above the hardships in life...
She wrote the single "Overcomer" as a way to encourage her good friend and backup singer, Lakisha Mitchell. Lakisha was pregnant with her second child when she received the diagnosis of breast cancer in December 2012. When choosing treatment options, she always put the health of her baby first, often at her own peril. Knowing it would be tough going, friends and family still anticipated Lakisha would survive the disease. When she died before her newborn son's first birthday, many, including Mandisa, were shocked.
On the day Lakisha died, Mandisa posted to Facebook: "A great friend dying of cancer would be too much to bear without the peace and hope of heaven. I'll miss her spunk, laugh, beautiful voice and unshakable faith."
Soon after, Mandisa sank into a dangerous depression, one that came close to claiming her life. She disconnected from friends, family and God. The depression lasted for more than three years. Reflecting on Lakisha's death, and the years that followed, Mandisa says:
"There was something that went on in my heart when that occurred. I started questioning and doubting and wondering, 'Is this God that I believe in really good. If so why would He allow bad things to happen?'" Mandisa continues, "I went into the deepest depression of my life and I was there for several years. As God started lifting me out of that pit, He started showing me several things and one thing is that His ways are higher and His ways are better."
In the midst of a desperate type of pain, God started to bring moments of hope into her life. One of those moments involved an unexpected phone conversation:
"So, there I was. Sitting in my house. By myself. I'd been there for years shutting out everybody who loved me, including God. I was in a deep pit of depression and I didn't want anything to do with Jesus, with God, with God's people - 'cause I was angry at him," Mandisa says. "It was in the middle of that deep pit that I get a call from my brother John. John is somebody I've been praying for - for years ... and he essentially says, 'What must I do to be saved?' I wasn't ready. I had no idea how to do this because I hadn't spoken to God in years. I hadn't opened my Bible. I knew there was a prayer of salvation and I couldn't think of it at that time because I'd completely shut out any influences of light in my life."
John accepted Jesus as his Savior that day, June 13, 2016. And, that moment became a place that Mandisa now points to. A place God used to change the trajectory of her life...
"It's interesting. I feel like something happened in that moment as I was going through the prayer of salvation with my brother. And, that was that God began reminding me that I had prayed for decades and even though I had been questioning everything about God ... I feel like God used that moment - when my brother John was being set free - to set me free. It's one of the biggest honors and joys of my life to have that moment with my brother."
Mandisa has a renewed passion for her music and connecting with people. Her album Out Of The Dark (2017) chronicles her journey to a deeper knowledge of Christ and includes, in song form, some of the questions she asked God during her season of pain and recovery.
She also has a newly discovered willingness to be transparent and vulnerable about her story. Like when she shares the inspiration behind her song "Unfinished"...
"I feel like I battle the same kind of problems, the same sins over and over and over again. And I start to beat myself up. I battle so much with shame. But God is also beginning to show me that he is not done with me yet," Mandisa reflects. “I want to encourage you with this too: Even if you mess up, time and time again. It's not how many times you fall down - it's how many times you get back up. So, don't wallow in fear and negativity. Trust that your God is still working, that you're not a mess, that you're not a failure, that you're not a mistake... ... You're just unfinished.”
Mandisa lives just outside of Nashville, Tennessee, and is back to seeing her friends and family regularly.