Mandisa grew up in a "typical American family" -- divorced parents and an extending family -- but what she has accomplished is atypical. Parlaying her appearance on "American Idol" as a finalist in Season 5, Mandisa has blossomed into a contemporary Christian music artist, who garnered a Grammy Award nomination Wednesday night for Best Contemporary Christian Music Album for "What If We Were Real."
Mandisa and Matthew West, whose "Strong Enough" earned a Grammy nod for Best Contemporary Christian Music Song, will be performing at Mission Hills Church in Littleton on Saturday, Dec. 3.
Mandisa survived Simon Cowell's stabbing comments about her weight and now five years after wowing TV audiences, Mandisa is addressing her demons of childhood abuse and living life to the fullest.
Higher Note: How did you get involved with "American Idol?"
Mandisa: I was a background singer in Nashville. I was doing studio work. Nashville is such a great music city, you can cut any type of music, country, Christian, hip-hop. I was doing a lot of choral work, and backing up Christian artists and doing worship services. I was making a living full-time in the music business.
It was the last year that I was eligible for "American Idol," and I won a radio contest in Georgia. If you won, they sent you to the Chicago auditions, and you got to skip waiting in line -- so I missed all that drama. They flew me out to Chicago and set me up in a nice hotel.
I was content singing background, and with everything that was happening in my life. But any singer that watches "American Idol" thinks what if . And I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life thinking what could have happened.
Higher Note: What did you learn on "American Idol"?
Mandisa: God used that avenue for me. I was happy, shocked and blown away by the opportunities that I’ve had. It is who you know. It was a crash course in everything. How to talk to the media, how to put on a good show, what to wear … there are things that I learned from that show that I use today.
Higher Note: What is the hardest part of your job?
Mandisa: Trying not to make my relationship with God routine. I want my relationship with God and my career to bleed together. It’s a battle. I want my relationship with God to overflow into my career. I want to experience Him in my life. You can get in a routine and do shows, go to the studio, record music. I want to keep from being jaded. I want His being to overflow into my life.
I had to learn that this (Christian music) is not a religion -- it is a relationship with Jesus. And to have any relationship you have to spend time with that person. So I get up earlier to study the word. And throughout the day I talk to Him. I communicate with Him. I want to preserve my relationship instead of just being on stage and talking about Him.
Higher Note: You've lost over 100 pounds. How much did your beliefs play in your success weight?
Mandisa: Faith was the most important thing to me losing weight. I had dieted before, I had lost weight. My faith taught me about obedience in the Lord, and I want my body to be a temple not a hindrance. And my weight has been a hindrance my whole life.
I used “Breaking Free" every day. It was a Bible study I did in college, and it’s helped me break free of my food addictions. "Breaking Free" holds a special place in my heart -- to focus every single day. I’ve lost 100 pounds and I know how easy it is to go back. It’s helped me with the temptation, and with (holidays) coming up I focused on Psalm 100, to spend time counting my blessings. You can lose sight of that in all that you have.
I learned to trust Him and I memorized a lot of Scriptures. I have a spiral notebook with Scriptures that I look at whenever I feel tempted. I recite a lot of prayers. And you have to eat right and exercise. I eat whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
And I’m going to a Christian counselor, who has helped me to realize that the root of my weight gain was about the abuse I had when I was a child. I turned to food so that would get heavier so men wouldn’t look at me, so I wouldn’t be attractive. I was abused by men, boys. I was treating the result and not the root of the problem.
You don’t realize it’s one in four girls and one in four boys. And my whole life I never looked at the root issue that I was abused as a child. I was shielding myself and I was dealing with the surface with diets.
Higher Note: Were you always a Christian or did you have moment where you turned your life over to God?
Mandisa: I believe you can be raised in a Chirstian family, but it’s not until you ask God to be your king and savior that you are a Christian. I remember I was 16 and a coworker of my mom asked us to go see “The Singing Christmas Tree,” and I realized that Jesus wasn’t just this character in a play. That He had died for our sins. And I asked Him then to be my lord and savior.
And now I look at my life, and I can see that all that has happened that God had a hand in everything.
After "American Idol," I was thinking about what to do afterward. I was getting all these offers from record companies that wanted me to be a R&B singer. And I remember what Randy Jackson told me: Do the music that comes more naturally to you. And I knew that I wanted to do Christian music -- that I wanted to talk about God. And that I could create any sound that I wanted with Christian music. It can be hip-hop, rock and everything in between. It’s so true I remember when I first heard Christian heavy metal, I didn't know there was such a thing.
Higher Note: Who were your musical influences growing up?
Mandisa: When I was 16 I was listening to pop radio and you hear everything. Pop, rock, country but my bent is toward Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey. But I like Def Leppard, Guns and Roses. So my sound is definitely all over the spectrum. That’s the beauty of Christian music. So I have funky beats with rocking guitars. That’s why I’m considered a contemporary Christian artist, but people look at me and see a black Gospel artist.
Higher Note: Talk about your new CD (Note: the interview was before the Grammy nominations.)
Mandisa: Social media played a huge role in my newest record: "What if we were Real." Through social media I learned that people don’t want pretense. They prefer you to be real. And yea, it’s really me on Twitter.
So fans, now you have a chance to congratulate Mandisa in person --via Twitter -- on her Grammy nomination and her new healthy lifestyle.