Tony Cummings reports on AUSTIN FRENCH who rose to prominence through America's Rising Star TV talent search
If you follow Nashville CCM, you'll know that the Gospel Music Association's Dove Awards are, in many ways, Christian music's equivalent to the Grammys. At the 2018 Doves, a singer/songwriter from Cordele, Georgia, Austin French, was nominated New Artist Of The Year. And if Austin's music is still unfamiliar to you, the fact that four songs - "Wide Open", "Born Again", "Good Feeling" and "Holy Ground" - are now on the Cross Rhythms playlist suggests that Austin will soon be one of your favourites, particularly if you like pop with heavy synthetic beats and what JesusFreakHideout website described as music that resembles the "distorted vocals and beats of Imagine Dragons and the soulful, sly modern pop of OneRepublic."
French was born in February 1994 and grew up in the small town of Cordele, Georgia. Even when he was young, he wanted to write and sing songs that "shared his faith and passion for Jesus." He formed Christian bands and began touring throughout his high school years. He remembered, "We would fill up the church van or my best friend's Suburban and drive, praying that we would make it to the gigs without breaking down, just to play for 10 people and then do it again every weekend we could." He began leading worship at Journey Church, in Tifton, Georgia at the age of 18 and became the full-time worship pastor. He met his wife, Joscelyn French, at the church and for three years led worship at the church.
Then in 2014 French was featured on the first season of the ABC TV show Rising Star. He performed songs such as "Bless The Broken Road" and "House Of The Rising Sun", impressing millions of viewers, including guest judges Ludacris, Kesha and Brad Paisley. Austin finished as the runner-up on the show and had the opportunity to share the stage with recording star Josh Groban. Speaking about his Rising Star experience on the NewReleaseToday website he said, "I've been singing my whole life, but nobody teaches you how to sing to a camera with millions of people on the other end. I had to learn how to really focus and learn to sing to one person: the camera. I told God, 'You gave me this opportunity, use me.' My goal on the show was to share the Gospel with as many people as I could. I always wanted to be a Christian artist, but I didn't have any connections. Sometimes on the journey, you never know who you will run into and whether they're interested in hearing the Gospel. Sometimes, sharing the Gospel is controversial, and maybe it should be. There were times where they told me I shouldn't be talking about Jesus and just sing, but I stood firm in sharing the Gospel. At the end of the day, the show introduced me to my manager, and that's how I am where I am now."
Jason Davis, a manager/partner with First Company Management, began to guide the young songsmith's career. Austin and his family relocated to Delroy Beach, Florida, serving as the worship pastor at The Avenue Church. While in Florida, French continued to travel to Nashville, writing songs and make friendships that would be vital to his future in the CCM industry. Austin eventually signed a record deal with Fair Trade Services, the label home for artists such The Newsboys, MercyMe and Phil Wickham.
In 2017 Fair Trade released Austin's first single, "Freedom Hymn", and it hit making eight in the US Christian music charts. Other hits "Why God" and "Born Again" followed. Then in 2018 his full length album 'Wide Open' was released. Just before its release he told Hallels, "It took me four years to get this album written and out. A lot of life has happened in the meantime, and I'm excited to share the life that's happened in the process. That's what you'll hear in this album. I hope people will hear this and be inspired by it."
Clearly the response from radioland is that God is granting Austin's wish.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.