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?
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.
I think he cares about treating our bodies as temples, and that is not what we look like. That is about health. And that's why I don’t make my goal to be a certain size or a certain weight. I just make my goal to be healthy, and that includes eating right, and that includes exercising.
I think he cares very, very much about that because he created these bodies, and it’s what he’s given us as tents until we get up to our eternal place. We have to take care of it. I know that he cares about it because he doesn’t want his children to be unhealthy. And it leads to a lot of different problems and early death, and he cares a lot about that. I think that we are all called to take care of the temples he's given us.
You fasted before you went back to Hollywood for the top 24. Have you fasted before? What's the spiritual significance of fasting for you?
I fast all the time. Any time that I'm facing something spiritually significant, or any time that I feel like I need guidance from the Lord, I fast. It sort of began as an act of obedience, because I saw people in the Bible doing it. I said, "Okay, well I guess I should do it too." I didn’t really understand the significance. What I knew is that, after several days of not eating and really spending that concentrated time in prayer, that I really would feel closer to the Lord and I really would feel like he was guiding me and that I could hear his voice clear. What began just as an act of obedience really did turn into something that I just know to do any time that I really need to hear from the Lord. With the act of not feeding yourself with food, you are heightening your spiritual senses. I believe that fasting is a principle that the Lord will allow us to do in order to seek him more closely.
Do you think there's a connection between the body and the spirit? And if so, what is it?
When we ask the Lord into our hearts, our body houses the spirit. First Corinthians 6:19 tells us that our bodies are temples. I believe we choose either to believe or to be obedient to the flesh or to be obedient to the spirit. Whenever you choose to be obedient to the spirit, the rewards are numerous.
I do believe that there is a connection in that, and I believe that the Lord has given us a choice. Any time that we choose to believe the spirit and to walk in the spirit, he's pleased with that.
What are some ways that you can bring God into the everyday? Some people say, "I’m not on 'American Idol.' I'm not on TV, I'm not famous. What can I do?"
|'God Is At Work Around All of Us'|
For some, he's calling you to talk to somebody and to tell them very specifically what they must do to be saved. For others, it may simply be to live out their life and to show people what it really is to be a Christian. I just think that we always [need to] be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you for the reason for the hope that you have.
But the Bible says to do it with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who may speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. I just think the word of God is very, very clear about what we are to do and how we're to do it.
I think as we're obedient to him, that we're gonna see more and more people become attracted to him by the love that we show. The Bible says that people are gonna know that we're his disciples by the love that we distribute to everybody. So that's the most important. I love the saying, "Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words."
You said in an interview in The Advocate that you didn't think you'd feel comfortable performing in front of a homosexual group. A big part of your faith is interacting with people who don't know the Lord. Do you think that, if you were to perform at something like that, that would be a way for you to continue your ministry?
It could be. And if the Lord asked me to do it, then I would. But I just think it's one thing to sort of advocate homosexuality, and I think that if I were to perform at a gay event, that I would be doing that. And because I don't advocate it, I wouldn't feel comfortable with it.
I am a Christian singer, and I believe that there are principles that are laid out very clearly in the Bible about homosexuality. If a group wanted me to come out and had no problem with me, you know, talking about my faith and talking about the Bible and scriptures that are in it, then I would consider it.
But to be honest, I don't believe that I would be asked to because I wouldn’t be singing songs that I did on "American Idol." I would be singing Christian songs about Christian principles, and I don't believe that they line up with the homosexual lifestyle. That's why I said I wouldn’t feel comfortable with it. If the Lord called me to do it, I would do anything that he would call me to do.
It's interesting that you brought up the difference between the songs that you sing now and the songs that you sang on "American Idol." There's that part in your book where you get an angry e-mail from a woman saying that you shouldn't go on TV and sing secular music. How did you reconcile that?
I don't believe that all Christian singers need to be doing Christian music. I believe that God has called each of us to our own ministry, and I don’t believe that, by singing Christian music necessarily, that that is any more of a ministry than if God had called me to do, say, pop music.
The fact of the matter is I'm called to be a witness to everybody. Giving me a platform like "American Idol" gives me a witness to people that may never go into a church. I'm singing at a baseball game this weekend. I'm singing my songs about Jesus, but it's not a church and it's not a Christian conference.
I don't believe that there's anything wrong with Christians doing secular music. I think that we have to be careful what we sing about. I don't think that we should look like the rest of the people that are talking sex, drugs, or shooting people up. But I do believe that the Lord can use Christians in all types of areas, and so I don’t see a problem with that.
What do you think God has planned for you next?
I don't know, but I'm holding onto him. I've told him, he's got a bigger dream for me than I ever had for myself. So I believe I'm going on the wildest ride of my life, and I'm just kind of holding onto him for the ride. He can take me wherever he wants to go.