Teen Pop: A summary of some young Christian bands

Thursday 1st February 2001

A phenomenal surge of youthful acts are now making a serious challenge to the Britneys and Westlifes of popdom. A decidedly old Tony Cummings reports on the young gospel popsters.

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"We knew she had a God-given talent from the beginning," says Marianne Lampa, a stay-at-home mum of four who met her husband Phil while both were working as nurses in an Indiana hospital. "We've encouraged her to sing whenever and wherever it's appropriate. Just not while the rest of her brothers and sisters are trying to eat or do their homework," Mum says, laughing.

"I've dreamed of being a recording artist, for as long as I can remember," says Rachael. "I grew up listening to Christian music, especially Amy Grant - 'El Shaddai' from 'Age To Age' was the first thing I heard." She was quickly at home on a stage, from The Jenny Jones Show's Young Talent Search (at 12) to finishing in second place at the World Championship of Entertainment and her frequent performances of the national anthem at Colorado Rockies baseball games, Rachael's childhood dreams seemed destined to come true.

Though Rachael had already been a regular performer by the time her age hit double digits, it was a "chance" incident that brought her talent to the rapt attention of Nashville record executives at a conference in Estes Park, Colorado. "I had never even heard of Praise In The Rockies, but this guy who was lining up the performers happened to be staying with one of our friends, down here," says Rachael. "He heard my voice on a demo tape of our friend's song and he wanted to hear more."

Two days later, Marianne Lampa got a phone call from Estes Park - it was the same fellow, Danny Meeker, asking if Rachael could come up the next day and perform two songs. Rachael remembers the moment: "I was getting my hair cut or something, and Mom called me and said, 'Oh, by the way, there will be people from five record companies there listening to you... and you'll be singing after Amy Grant and Michael W Smith.'"

A daunting task for a 14 year old, but she handled it like a pro - at least on the outside ("I was freaking out!") - and the record execs swarmed like flies to honey. "When I got done singing, I started to walk backstage and the first person I saw was this guy who said, 'Hi, I'm Brent Bourgeois from Word Records.' I thought, 'A record company?' I'd never met anybody from a record company before!"

She met plenty of them - that week, mother and daughter made daily trips up to the mountains to meet with several record representatives and, shortly thereafter, the drives became flights to Nashville for more meetings. At the tender age of 14, Rachael Lampa signed a long term artist agreement with Word Records and her new friend Brent Bourgeois. Looking back just a few short months, the teen sensation is surprisingly reflective. "I would not have been prepared for this to happen any earlier," she says. "When I went to Estes Park, I had just been to a great youth conference in South Dakota, and my faith was building fast. It was the right time -I was really ready for this to happen, and God opened all the doors."

Indeed, it's her vibrant, personal faith in Jesus Christ that is at the centre of Rachael Lampa's busy young life. From the parental discipleship of the senior Lampas ("My parents are from really strong Christian homes themselves") to her close relationships with adult role models at St Louis Church and her high school's chapter of Fellowship of Christian Artists, Rachael is fully supported and thoroughly grounded in reality, despite the whirlwind of recording sessions and media interviews.

In the midst of juggling all of these priorities, Rachael is quick to count her greatest blessings. Without pausing for a breath, and with the unbridled enthusiasm of a teenager in love with life, Rachael rattles off her list: "An awesome, supportive family and friends! The ability to keep up a normal life in a regular high school... people that care about me and pray for me...the privilege to have grown up with faith and the knowledge of God. God around me and God's presence, always with me."

From punchy, irresistibly hooky pop to heartrending ballads, ZOËGIRL - Alisa Girard, Kristin Swinford and Chrissy Conway - have delivered one of the year's great albums, poised to explode from one end of the radio dial to the other.

Alisa, Kristin and Chrissy, all in their early 20s, are accomplished singers, songwriters and dancers from diverse but very complementary backgrounds. Alisa was born and raised in Los Angeles in a Christian home, the daughter of Jesus music legend Chuck Girard. She spent her early youth, until she was 10, determined to become a world-class gymnast and investing a rigorous 30 hours a week toward that goal before her interests unalterably shifted to music and sharing her faith. Having already studied piano for some time, she began giving concerts as a teenager in California, as well as Arizona and as far north as Canada, all the while becoming deeply involved in inner-city outreach ministry. Both her loving heart and passion for ministry bore fruit when she moved to New York City for two years where she helped to run a church-founded urban youth centre for two years.

Kristin came to know the Lord at a young age as she was also raised in a Christian home. As a teenager, Kristin attended a Christian Youth Crusade and it was there that she realized God's calling for her in the music ministry. After her first year of college studying classical voice, she moved to St Louis to join a contemporary Christian singing group called Spirit Wing. There she had the opportunity to travel and work with the youth throughout Missouri and surrounding states. It was through that experience that she realized it was time to pursue her music ministry full time. God led her to Nashville in 1998 to study music at Belmont University where her sense of calling in music was solid, though her place in ZOËgirl was still a year from realisation.

New Jersey native Chrissy Conway was a musically gifted child singing, dancing and performing since she was two. By her teens, Chrissy was in a group signed to a major recording contract out of Atlanta, only to become disillusioned when that group folded, leaving her questioning the purpose and future of her lifetime spent in music. The expectation of an appearance by R&B/pop stars, En Vogue, led her to a youth crusade led by evangelist Greg Lorie, where she was startled to find the message of grace, forgiveness and salvation far more impacting than the concert she'd expected. Committing her own life to Christ that night, Chrissy surrendered her musical endeavours to his will and intentions.

The genesis of ZOËgirl came in early 1999, when Sparrow Records president Peter York and renowned artist manager Norman Miller, both friends of the Girard family, began to consider Alisa as a perfect candidate for a three-woman group they had been interested in assembling for some time. She accepted the offer they soon made her and agreed to meet with Kristin, whom Miller had heard of and wanted as the second group member.
"The minute I met Alisa, I felt like I'd known her for my whole life," Kristin says. "We just had an instant chemistry that I knew could only be confirmation from God. We couldn't wait to start writing and working together."

Two months passed as the search for the artist who would complete ZOËgirl continued, when one day a musician friend of Kristin's told her of a great singer he knew in New Jersey. The singer was Chrissy. "It was amazing how it all came about," says Chrissy. "I received the phone call from Kristin about the group the day after I prayed to God for a direction in my life. He couldn't have made my direction any clearer."

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