One of the most powerful and soulful voices to emerge from the 5th season of "American Idol" was the singer Mandisa. Her Grammy nominated debut album - called "True Beauty" - put her definitive stamp on contemporary Christian music. But Mandisa's success has been hard won. During a recent "Christopher Closeup" interview (free podcast here), she discussed her struggles with faith, her weight problem that led to low self-esteem, and how she deals with the fact that she was raped earlier in her life. Here are some excerpts:
Tony Rossi: Mandisa, a number of people who’ve been on this show have said that even when they came to faith, there was a period where they wandered off the reservation so to speak. Did you have any ‘wandering off the reservation moments’ in your spiritual journey?
Mandisa: Absolutely I did. The first one that came to mind when you asked that is right after “American Idol.” When I was eliminated, there was a lot of controversy because I did sing a Christian song on the show. A lot of people attribute my elimination to me singing that song. If I’m being completely honest – and I wish it’s something I could take back now – I was really angry at the Lord because I felt like, there I was in a public platform and I was trying to represent Him…and let the world know how great He was. And I felt like He had turned His back on me, that He was supposed to take care of me, that all the horrible things people were saying about me in interviews and on the Internet wasn’t supposed to happen. I think I missed that Scripture that said, “In this world, you will have trouble.” (chuckles)
But as a result, I got myself into a really deep depression. I felt like the world hated me and God hated me. I just turned away from my friends who loved me and who were trying to call and support me. And most importantly, I turned away from the Lord. I didn’t want to talk to Him. I was lying in my bed one night trying to ignore Him, but He was very persistent once again with me. I didn’t hear an audible voice, I’ll say that. But I did get the sense that he was trying to get my attention. He didn’t condemn me; he didn’t say how upset He was. He said, “I love you.” It was His compassion and His grace that made me realize that His ways are so much higher and better than mine, and He always knows what He’s doing even if it doesn’t make sense to us. That was kind of the beginning of the journey back to His arms.
TR: When I saw you on “American Idol,” I saw you as this talented, confident, strong woman. Yet I was surprised to read that in your background, you have battled low self-esteem throughout your life. Where did that battle come from?
Mandisa: The biggest battle of my life has been with my weight. For me – and this isn’t for everybody – but for me it is a food addiction. My parents divorce had a lot to do with it and there are some other things that happened – but from a young age, I turned to food to find comfort and satisfaction. As a result, I got extremely overweight and unhealthy. And I think for anybody who has struggled in this area, it’s very hard to not compare yourself to what society says is beautiful. It’s been a very long journey for me to realize that it has less to do with beauty and outward appearance. My first CD was called “True Beauty” because it was such a lesson for me, especially on “American Idol,” to learn where my beauty really comes from. It comes from the Lord. Once I realized that, I’m on another journey. My next CD is called “Freedom” because the Lord has got me on a freedom journey right now where he’s setting me free from this food addiction and from a lot of the things that I turn to instead of Him. It’s a journey and my self-esteem is much better, but more importantly, I feel like I’m becoming free one day at a time.
TR: You’ve had the experience of forgiving someone who did something unspeakable to you. You’re a rape survivor. How did you get to forgive somebody for doing something that a lot of people would think is just unforgivable?
Mandisa: Here’s the thing about forgiveness. It has more to do with the person that is forgiving than the person that is being forgiven. The person who abused me – he probably has gone on with the rest of his life and never given a second thought to what he did to me. For me to hold onto (hatred), it would cause a bitter root to grow inside of me…By forgiving, we are setting ourselves free more than anything else…When you don’t forgive, you’re holding onto something. I really think it has a big impact on you, your personality, on your happiness and your joy for the rest of your life. So forgiveness is huge, but there’s also some other work that has to be done (to achieve healing) – retraining the mind (for instance). Every time I think about that incident now, I have to think about it differently. I have to see…how the situation that I went through can help other people, how me speaking about it can help free other people who have been through a similar situation. I think it’s a retraining of the mind you have to do to be emotionally set free yourself.
(To download the full “Christopher Closeup” interview with Mandisa, go to www.christophers.org/closeuppodcast).