Reviewed by George Luke
In 2005, America's CCM magazine interviewed the presidents of the three of the major Christian record labels. One of the questions they put to them was, "Who do you think is the most over-hyped mainstream artist today?" The response from the president of EMI's Christian Music Group was brief but brutally frank: "Any finalist on American Idol." Fast-forward three years, and EMI's most over-hyped new gospel act is. . . a former finalist from American Idol! Whether it was sour grapes talking back in 2005 or a cynical change of heart now, we'll probably never know. But going purely by the quality of this album, I'd say the hype was justified. Mandisa Lynn Hundley - for those of you who don't know - competed in the 2006 series of American Idol. She made it through to the finals finishing in ninth place; along the way she had to put up with Simon Cowell making catty comments about her weight (she gives an account of her battles with food addiction in her autobiography, Idoleyes, and in the Cross Rhythms article), and kind of sealed her fate on the show with an extremely churchy performance of Mary Mary's "Shackles" (Paula and Randy loved it; Simon didn't get it). She reprises that song here, minus all the on-stage preaching. Five producers/production teams worked on the album; it clearly had a big budget. All good, but at times I found myself wondering how much of the "real" Mandisa I was hearing. You do get the occasional glimpse: on the title track, with its "beauty comes from within" message, and the defiant "(Never Gonna) Steal My Joy". During her college days, Mandisa attended the historic black American institution Fisk College and was a member of the legendary Fisk Jubilee Singers. They join her on the modern-day Negro spiritual "Oh My Lord". Other guests include Toby Mac and Cindy Morgan, with DJ Maj lending his scratching skills on "Love Somebody". Mandisa can certainly sing, and I fully expect her career to outlast that of whoever won Idol the year she was in it (I've already forgotten who it was!). But I still think this album's a tad over-produced.
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