Coming off her most successful album ever, Mandisa
returned to the studio to record her
new album, Overcomer
. Her previous album, What If We Were Real
, has sold over 270,000 albums and featured the breakout radio hits “Good Morning,” “Waiting For Tomorrow,” and the #1 hit, “Stronger.” The American Idol alum and three-time Grammy nominee continues to be a voice of encouragement and truth to women facing life’s challenges. Mandisa also continues to have unprecedented media exposure for a Christian artist including two recent appearances on Good Morning America.
I sat down with Mandisa at a local coffee shop to talk about new music, coffee vs. tea, family and what it means to be an over-comer. What follows is a real conversation. Mandisa, some would say is a true artist. She is that for sure, but she is so much more. She is a warrior in a huge battle. She is a fighter - fighting for the truth of the Gospel. That can be summed up with one statement from her, "There is joy unspeakable!"
John: I’m reading a quote, and I’m not sure where this was, maybe on your promo sheet or something, but you said, “I recorded both the song ‘Overcomer’ and the album to fuel faith and empower people; to remind those facing a battle that all for the strength and power they need is readily available to them. We are all overcomers.”
So, my question is, why do you think people struggle with not seeing that identity themselves?
Mandisa: Because we are natural people. We have a supernatural heritage, but we’re natural people. We tend to only see our circumstances and not look beyond our circumstances. I was reading in Judges 6-8, which is the story of Gideon, and it was fascinating to me. If you look at the snapshot of who Gideon was and Judges 6, and then if you look at the end in Judges 8, it’s almost like two completely different people. He was really kind of riddled with fear; I just think it was a stronghold of his. When the angel came to him and said, “Oh, mighty man of valor, the Lord is with you,” Gideon’s initial response was, “Well, if the Lord is with me, then why is this happening?” That’s so typical of us, isn’t it? We hear that the Lord is with us but then we look at our circumstances and say it doesn’t feel like the Lord is with me. Once Gideon started to believe what God said about him, he started walking it out. It took him believing what the angel of the Lord was saying to him to make him really started walking as a mighty man of valor. It was a process.
I’m convinced that when people start believing what God says about them, they’ll start walking it out. But God, He requires the faith at first. That’s why He says time and time again, “Believe Me, trust Me.” I love the man in the Gospel as He says, “I believe; help my unbelief.” God honors that prayer; it’s like, “Lord, I really want to believe and I believe you a little bit but help me in the areas where I don’t so much.” I think when we pray that, God says, “Okay, thank you for finally asking me.” Wham! “Here you go!” [laughs]
John: When somebody comes to you and says, “Yeah, but you have it all together.”
Mandisa: Ugh! Please. [laughs]
John: They may say, “I’m just a single mom raising three kids,” or “I’m a college student with the whole world ahead of me,” or whatever, and yet they can’t see anything going on in their lives spiritually. How do you say, look at Gideon or look at the man in the New Testament who said, “Help my unbelief”? What is your secret? Have you found a set of steps or something?
Mandisa: Totally. I say look at them and look at me. My last album was called What If We Were Real? That’s because God really sent me on a journey of taking the mask off. It was the mask that I would wear to try to tell the world that I’ve got it all together. He taught me to really let people see me as I truly am because I’ve found… I don’t know, I think so often in the Body of Christ we drive up to church, get in an argument with our family in the car, and then drive up and hit the church door and we’re like, “Hi. I’m blessed and highly favored.” We put on this veneer like I’ve got it all together and I actually think that God calls us to live more transparently, to live more vulnerably and to let our brothers and sisters in Christ see us as we really are. One, because in that way we can help one another know that we’re not alone; and two, it helps us to become more than what we are or were to start with.
So, my last album was a process of coming to understand that, and I have just learned to be very transparent--almost to a fault on my social media sites. I posted earlier this week about a moment where I had to confess to somebody at a store—it’s a long story, you can read it on my Facebook [laughs] —I had to confess to somebody at the store that I lied to them and [groans] that is just never easy to do! But I did it because, well, the Lord told me to and he convicted me and the less you listen to the conviction of the Lord, the more you get numb to it. I just want to always follow the conviction and to repent when I need to and to receive God’s grace and forgiveness and to keep it moving.
I just try to make it a point of letting the world know I do not have it all together. I’m on this journey just like you are and let’s do this together, let’s learn from one another.
At the same time, you have to recognize that you’re more than what you currently see. When God looks at us, He sees us as he created us. He sees us covered in the blood of Jesus, not as what we see when we look in the reflection in the mirror.
John: Is it scary sometimes when you get that vulnerable with people?
Mandisa: I think it used to be; it’s not so much anymore. It’s been a process, but I can thank Simon Cowell, in part, for that [laughs], for kind of putting me on blast, you know, on American Idol years ago. It helped me to not live hidden and not live hiding who I really am. Him making fun of my weight on national television put my weight story out there for the world to see, and that’s the main area where I was the most timid of letting people really see what was inside. So when Simon threw me out there, I was kind of forced out there, but it was a blessing in disguise because I feel like I’ve really learned a lot through it. I’ve helped several brothers and sisters along the same journey know that they’re not alone and that they—and I’m struggling just like they are—we have everything we need to fight and to come in victoriously.
John: Total sidebar, but do you still stay in contact with some of those people from those days?
Mandisa: The contestants I do.
John: Who won that year?
Mandisa: Taylor Hicks. He is in Las Vegas right now, and I know I’m a little bit biased, but I think that we had one of the more successful seasons. If you look at our Top 10, you’ve got Catherine McPhee on an NBC show, Kelly Pickler was just on Dancing with the Stars, and Chris Daughtry is a superstar. So many of the people on my season are doing really well, so that’s one of the great things about social media. I can always tweet them and Facebook them and keep in touch with how they’re doing. Then when I get to their cities, I can look them up and say, “Hey, let’s go grab some coffee.” But no, I don’t hang out with Simon Cowell on a regular basis. [laughs again]
John: So let’s look at this: Each of your records seem to tell another chapter or story in your life; adding, maybe, another layer of who you are. When you put those songs together or create that album, are you thinking of Mandisa? Are you thinking of your personal friends… or your fan base? When you make a record, who’s that for?
Mandisa: I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that question and I like it!
My albums have been a journey of my life. True Beauty was first and that was coming right off of doing American Idol and really learning not to define myself by the standards of the world but by what God says about me. Freedom was when God started chipping away at the things in my life that I’ve been bound by, mainly my food addiction, and I began really letting Him teach me that true freedom is not the fact that I can eat these scones that are right behind me, but that true freedom is knowing that I don’t have to and knowing that I have the power to resist those scones and the chocolate cookies or whatever is tempting me.
The third was What If We Were Real? That record was God chipping away at the layers and letting me show the world who I really am, and with this one, it was a combination of me looking at my life and how I’m overcoming not just the weight struggle, but also lots of other areas in my life. I’m overcoming … I think for a long time I was very miserable being single. I call myself super-duper single because I think once you hit 30 you’re not just single, you’re super single. (Laughs)
I’m just saying, once I hit 30. (laughter). I think I was so miserable in that for such a long time, and I feel like God has been helping me to overcome depending on a man to complete me. I believe that I’m called to be married; I believe that I’m going to meet my husband one day, but saying “I’m going to live my life right now and not just wait for the moment when I get married.” That’s a big overcomer story for me.So, I was thinking about myself in those areas and then I was thinking about some friends of mine. One in particular, whose name is Keisha, was diagnosed with breast cancer while she was pregnant and was undergoing chemo treatments while she was seven months pregnant. When I looked at her story, I went, “Wow! You were in the middle of this battle and had the greatest outlook!” I could just see how God was going to use this as a testimony. I was like, “Keisha, you’re an overcomer and we’ve not even seen the end of this battle.” For me, it’s about really studying the Word of God and coming to understand that an overcomer is somebody who has not even conquered their circumstances yet.
The Bible describes an overcomer as, first of all, if you have the Holy Spirit inside of you, the Bible makes it really clear that those who believe that Jesus is Lord, are overcomers, because Jesus is an overcomer. Then, of course, in John 4:4, it says that the One who is in us is greater than the one who is in the world. So, it really isn’t about circumstances; it’s not about feeling like we’re an overcomer. We’re an overcomer because God says that we are. Like I said earlier, once we believe that, I think that’s when we’ll start walking it out. But we have to believe it first.
That’s what this album is, is it’s convincing both myself and my brothers and sisters in Christ to believe that you and I are overcomers. That we need to and can trust God, and that the One who is inside of you is greater than the one who is of the world. You can beat whatever it is that you’re going through, even though beating it may not look like we think it does. Keisha’s doing really well with her cancer. She’s had a double mastectomy and is still going through more treatments, but her baby was born perfectly healthy. We don’t know what the end is going to be, but that doesn’t change the fact that she’s overcome this; she may overcome it by seeing Jesus face to face sooner rather than later. Or she may overcome it by God completely healing her, but what we know is that because Jesus lives in her, she’s an overcomer regardless of how we see the circumstances working out.
John: Is this record more personal for you?
Mandisa: I think all of my records have been personal. This one is different in that where I am in my life is different than all of my other past albums. I just feel like I’m in a great place of contentment that I’ve never had before. I love being single now; there are many benefits. Let me tell them to you… (laughs)
On Mother’s Day, I got a last minute flight to Charlotte where I got to support my friend Lisa who was speaking in her Church. She was speaking about something that was really difficult for her, and as I booked those flights with my miles, I was like, “If I was married and had kids, I probably couldn’t have hopped this flight at the last minute and gone to support her.” I can take my money and use it to benefit causes that are important to me. I can spend as much time in my bed as I want to and I get the whole bed to myself. I love my bed; I named my bed Rufus because I love it that much.
I have the ability to do that without having to worry about somebody next to me pulling my covers, I love that. I think more importantly, I can spend as much time with the Lord as I want to. I can wake up on any given day, sit there in my bed, Rufus, and talk to the Lord all day long and study the Word and fellowship with my friends. You can’t really do that when you have different devotions to your children or to your husband.
John: It’s different.
Mandisa: It’s a different kind of a calling, but for right now I’m just appreciating that I have those things. So, yeah, in one area, that’s important, and I have a song, “I’m Praying for You” that I wrote with Chris August. That is a song to my future husband—who is not Chris August, by the way. (laughs) Let me just make that clear!
So, I long for that day, but I’m not putting my life on hold. And I’ve got a lot of great workout songs on this album, just because that’s been important to me in the last few years. More than anything, there’s a lot of worship songs this time around because I’m just so loving the Lord and just so thankful for so much that that came out in my music. I’ve got a lot of songs that are like, “God you don’t have to do another thing, I just want to worship you because you’re that good.”
Yeah, it’s different from my other albums. I think a lot of my other albums were more like, “Lord, when?” and “Help me,” and “I can’t get through this!” So now this one is a little bit more like, “Thank you, Jesus! I know that I can get through this!”
John: “Dear John”… Can you tell us about that song?
Mandisa: Oh, gosh! Do you have Kleenex ready? (laughter)
John: We can get some. If you don’t want to talk about it, that’s okay too.
Mandisa: No, I’m happy to talk about it. Although I’ve never been able to talk about it without crying.
John is my brother. He is not a Christian, and I really want him to be. And the reason I want him to be is not because I want him to live a life of rules and regulations. It’s because I know the abundant life that I have from a relationship with Jesus, and I simply want him to have that same abundant life. We’ve talked many times about faith. But right now he’s enjoying his party lifestyle, and he sees a lot of hypocrites—people who say they believe one thing and then their lives reflect another. So I think that’s just kind of been a way that the enemy has blinded his eyes. I pray for him on a regular basis and I have a lot of people praying for him. All of my Facebook and Twitter people know. Natalie Grant is a great friend of mine, and she has an alarm that goes off at nine o’clock every single day to remind her to pray for John. Here I go with the tears… (laughs)
So, I played “Dear John” for him on Fourth of July weekend. It was the first time he heard it, and his response was, “You know, that’s a great song, Disa.” And, of course, my response that I wanted was, “What must I do to be saved?” and I know that that day is going to happen; it just hasn’t happened yet.
So “Dear John” is a song that I wrote, if I were to write a letter about my desire for him to live that abundant life in Jesus and then if I were to put that letter to music, that’s what “Dear John” would be. I am praying first for his salvation, and hoping that as he listens to that song, he would put it on repeat without even knowing why, that he just keeps playing it and calls me up and says, “Okay, I’m ready.” Secondly, I’m also praying for every unbeliever who listens to it. I just … I’m asking God to flood them with grace and forgiveness. I think so often people think that it is about, I don’t know, a list or something of things that you have to do. My brother’s enjoying partying and he likes going to bars and he likes women, and I just think that he probably has some shame there, but he’s just kind of enjoying that. But if I could just convince him, you don’t know what you’re missing! Jesus is literally the best thing that’s ever happened to me and what you think you’re getting from these bars and alcohol and women, it does not even come close to the joy and the freedom and the satisfaction you get from a life with Jesus.
So I’m praying that for him and I’m praying for every unbeliever as they listen to it that they’ll just receive a flood of forgiveness and grace. Third, I’m also praying for my brothers and sisters in Christ who have loved ones in their lives who don’t know the Lord, that God would just rise up like faith to talk to them, to maybe write their own Dear John letter and say “Hey, one of my favorite artists, Mandisa, has this song that I really want you to listen to,” (laughter) but before you listen, let me tell you about what Jesus means to me.
I don’t know, I can just imagine people sending a letter with that song and then their loved one calling them and saying, “Okay, I recognize that you want this for me because you love me, so let’s talk about it.” I’m just praying that God opens up doors for conversations about Jesus to be had through this song.
John: Very good. Okay, so let’s see. We’ll kind of change gears a little bit. So talk about the record. Any new guest vocals?
Mandisa: Yeah, lots of guest vocals.
John: Is Chris on it as well?
Mandisa: He is, yes. I wrote with Matthew West. We wrote a song called “The Distance.”
Mandisa: I wrote with Plumb, we actually wrote “Dear John” together.
John: Does that mean that Matthew is then singing with you?
Mandisa: Matthew was doing the background on “The Distance.”
Mandisa: I wrote “Dear John” with Plumb, she’s singing background on that. I wrote “Praying for You” with Chris, he’s singing background on that. Then, there are a few people who aren’t singing on the album, but we wrote with… Israel Houghton on a song called “At All Times.” He lives in Houston, so we didn’t get those vocals. Then Cindy Morgan and Britt Nicole wrote a song that I did not write on called “Where You Begin,” and they’re not singing on it but they wrote that song.
So, yeah, lots of guest appearances on this album and they’re not only some of my friends, but they’re also some of my favorite artists. So it’s just been neat to be able to come together on these.
John: That’s great! That’s cool.
Are you a book reader? You are a book reader; what are you reading right now? That’s okay if you mention like three or four.
Mandisa: Okay. I’m reading Captivating by John and Stacy Eldredge, just because as a single woman that’s a great book for me to have. I’m also reading through The 5 Love Languages because there’s kind of a new relationship in my life. I don’t know where it’s going to go but, shhh. (laughter)
John: And it’s not Chris August.
Mandisa: It’s not Chris August.
Female: He didn’t hear that part. (laughter)
Mandisa: I think it just kind of helps to know how people are wired. I’m really into my friend Tam here; she does radio at Capitol with me and we’ve been talking all day long about personalities and how different kinds of people communicate with one another. I’m just into stuff like that. So I’m reading The 5 Love Languages, as I mentioned, and I’m realizing what my love languages are and are not. I think it will really help me to be able to show love to whomever I marry; but not just in a potential marital relationship, but with friends and family and coworkers too. So I’m reading that. Then, I’m also reading through the Bible; my Church is reading through the Bible, the Scriptures both in the Old and New Testament, and I’m using the voice translation, which I absolutely love.
Those three things I’m reading right now.
John: You are an author as well.
Mandisa: I’m working on a new one [book].
John: Really? Wow! When does that come out?
Mandisa: We’re just in the process; we’re meeting with publishers now. I have my preference, but we want to do an overcomer book. We want to do an overcomer book where people would compile a bunch of overcomer stories because I’m just convinced that when people tell their story in their testimonies, it helps them because the Bible says that we overcome by the word of our testimony. But it also helps people to hear it so I want to hear people tell their stories of how they overcame cancer because when people are going through cancer to read something like that, fuels their faith. So I want to compile these powerful stories about people in the middle of their battles, and also at the end of the battle. So, we’ll see.
John: What kind of music to you listen to now?
Mandisa: I’m a big CCM fan; the thing I love about CCM music, which stands for Contemporary Christian Music for those who don’t know, is that it comes in every style. You’ve got Christian Hip Hop and Rap and Country and Rock and Polka, probably! I don’t know. (laughter) I love that you can get all these styles, but the thing I love most about Christian music is that it’s not just something that makes you feel good, that makes you want to get up and dance, there’s a purpose and a meaning to it, and it helps you connect with the Lord. I love worship artists. My favorite worship artists are Israel Houghton and Jesus Culture, Meredith Andrews. I love the more current, more pop, hip hop styles. Capitol Kings I’m loving now. Then more pop artists like Britt Nicole and Natalie Grant. I don’t know; I love it all! If you look at my iPod, you’ll see a little bit of everything, but it’s pretty much all Christian music.
John: Last question, because we’re going to end here at three o’clock.
Female: Okay, we can leave a few minutes late too, because we came so late.
John: Well … What are you most excited about in 2013 besides Overcomer coming out?
Mandisa; I think the Hits Deep tour. We did it last year. It is tobyMac’s tour. He brings out a bunch of artists that are all my favorites. Last year it was Britt Nicole and Group 1 Crew were on it, but Britt and Blanca from Group 1 Crew are in baby mode right now, so they’re not on it this year. But we’ve added Colton Dixon who was on American Idol as well and is my label mate, and Capitol Kings who I just mentioned. I love them, they’re just really current. Then the people who were on it last year as well, like Brandon Heath, Jamie Grace and Chris August and Toby and myself. I cannot wait; it’s literally all of my favorite artists in one night.
John: Is that this fall?
Mandisa: It is. It starts in November and goes through December. Then in October I’m doing some more shows with Brandon Heath. We’ve been touring all year together; we did a 3-in-1 tour with Laura Story, and then we did a few shows called the Brandisa tour (laughs), because there was a rumor that he and I were dating so we just sort of embraced the name Brandisa. We are not, we are not dating.
John: Who started that rumor?
Mandisa: He did. (laughs)
John: Oh, he did? (laughter)
Mandisa: He went on a national radio station and said that we’re dating. I was like, “Brandon, look, I know it’s all kind of fun and games, but as a single woman you are messing up my game by telling the world that we are dating!” (laughter)
So we set the record straight. There’s a video on YouTube of him clarifying that we’re not dating. But, yeah, we’ve been touring together all year long.
John: So we need to pray for a husband for Mandisa, and for her brother.
Mandisa: You can pray for continued contentment for Mandisa and then the husband will come whenever God is good and ready. (Laughs)