'I Still Pray for Simon Cowell'
From the stage of 'American Idol' to the gospel music recording studio, Mandisa lets Jesus guide her path.
BY: Interview by Lilit Marcus
Tennessee native Mandisa was a finalist on the fifth season of the blockbuster hit show "American Idol." Now, she has two new releases: a gospel album ("True Beauty") and an inspirational Christian memoir ("IdolEyes"). She talks to Beliefnet about being a Christian on reality TV, praying through "American Idol," and why she'd be uncomfortable singing for a gay audience.
Did you have any uneasiness about appearing on a show that had the word "Idol" in the title?
It goes against everything that I stand for. But the fact of the matter is that I really did feel led to do it [the show]. The Lord really did use it for his glory and to build up his people. But certainly I do not endorse idol worship by any means. The fact that I was using that platform for his glory I guess is why I believe that it was okay. But I wouldn't mind if they changed the title.
You mentioned in your book that you originally thought God's plan for you was to make it to the top three. And that didn't happen. What advice would you give to people when God's plan changes?
I don't know that his plan changes. I really do believe that God speaks to his people, and I think that if we get it right 100 percent of the time we would be in heaven with him. What I would tell people is to pray. And to pray specific, because when Jesus was about to face the cross, he did ask that the cup would be taken away from him. Then he followed it by saying "But not my will, but yours, be done."
What I would tell people in praying is to ask God for what it is that you want, but then to trust that his will is better than yours and to learn the lessons from Jesus--he still was obedient to the Lord, and he knew that God’s plan was gonna be much better and much bigger than his. I would just tell people to trust that the Father's plan is much more--it's much better than any plan that you would ever have for yourself.
What do you pray for?
I pray for a lot of things. I pray that I would always remain thankful. I pray Thanksgiving whenever I get the opportunity. I try to remember things that I've been blessed with that I don't ever want to take for granted.
I do pray for specific things about my CD, that it would get into the hands of the people who will be blessed by it. And I pray that my book would get into the hands of people who would be inspired and encouraged by it, and convicted by it. I pray that I would have a ministry that would have an effect, and that I wouldn't just be a singer, that I would actually be [someone] that has an internal purpose in this world.
Do you have a favorite prayer?
Psalm 139 is probably my favorite. It's all about how God knew us specifically, that he had a plan for us from the beginning of time, that we can’t ever go away from his presence, that he knows how we were created. He knows every little nuance about us because he's the one that created us.
I often remind myself of that when I feel like a little peon in this world, and it's easy to think of God as this big God that doesn't care about his children and is just going on with his life. But that psalm reminds me often that he really does care, and that he loves us, and that really means a lot to me.
Did you have any specific prayers that you used during "American Idol"?
I prayed every day when I was on "American Idol." I prayed very specifically. I don't do rote prayers, necessarily. I just always try to live my life in prayer.
I would pray in the morning, I would pray throughout the day when different things would come up throughout the day, either difficult things or things I just want to thank God for. I just believe that we're supposed to be in an attitude of prayer all the time, so I tried to remain that way throughout "American Idol."
You made such an interesting decision when the producers wanted you to go after Simon Cowell for comments he had made about your weight. Instead of telling him off, you told him that you forgave him. Can you tell me a little bit about what was running through your head when that was going on?
When I first saw the comments that he made, I was humiliated and angry and hurt. I wish, certainly, it hadn't happened. But when my friends started to pray for me and they started to pray for Simon, that's when I realized that this is so much bigger than my hurt feelings. I fasted and prayed for the three days leading up to me going to Hollywood to see him again. And I knew what I was supposed to do.
When I got there, it was really easy. I was tempted to fall into the trap of being worried about whether or not I would make it into the top 24. But little things would happen and I would remember what I was gonna say to him. Sure, I was tempted to tell him off. But I'd seen the show for several seasons, and I had seen Simon been told off before, and it didn't really do anything.
It was more for me than anybody else that I forgave Simon. I really do believe that forgiveness is more for the forgiver than the person being forgiven. It eliminates bitterness, and it just helps us to move past just the phase of being in a dark place. And I just believe holding onto unforgiveness really hinders a lot of people's walk.
Do you still pray for Simon Cowell?
Absolutely. All the time. I do. I don't think it's a coincidence there have been so many Christians on American Idol. I think that that's for America to see, but I also do think that it's for the judges as well. And so, I do pray for him, and Randy and for Paula as well.