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IDOLeyesmy new perspective on FAITH, FAT & FAME
By MANDISA HUNDLEY ANGELA HUNT
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Mandisa Hundley
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWaiting Patiently
Hello. I'm Mandisa, and I'm a foodaholic. I'm also addicted to reality television. I love cheesecake, ice cream, and The Amazing Race. My idea of a perfect night is an up-sized cheeseburger meal deal followed by a two-hour episode of Survivor.
These days I'm learning how to deal with my food addiction, and I'm choosing to eat healthily. I've come to realize that being overweight is bad for my body and that if I'm going to be a good steward of the life God has given me, I need to change my eating habits.
The reality shows, however, are a different story. God has not led me to give those up; instead, He's used them to change my life.
Before I ever thought about auditioning for American Idol, I had watched every episode of every season and knew all the finalists by name. I believe Idol is the greatest TV show in the world, and every time I watched, at the back of my mind lurked a question: What would happen if I were to audition? But whenever I'd wonder about my chances, I immediately re- minded myself that I was too old. For the first three seasons, contestants could be no older than twenty-four when theyauditioned, and I was twenty-five when Idol first aired in the United States.
Ultimately, though, I'd flash back to all the comments I'd heard Simon make to people who are overweight-let's face it, the man is not the sort to spare anyone's feelings. He must adhere to the philosophy that one must be cruel to be kind, because I've seen him deflate dozens of contestants' hopes with a well-placed barb.
Still, I couldn't help but wonder. Then, at the start of season four, Idol raised the age limit to twenty-eight. I was eligible ... but I didn't have peace about proceeding. The timing didn't feel right.
Yet as I celebrated my twenty-eighth birthday in October 2004, I realized that would be my last year to be eligible for an Idol audition.
Was I going to let fear of one man's comments keep me from fulfilling a dream? Would I blow out the candles on my thirtieth birthday cake and wonder if I could have qualified for the competition?
In the early winter months of 2005, I decided that I wanted to live a life of no regrets. I didn't want to reach thirty-five or forty and still be wondering whether I had what it took to make it onto the Idol stage.
Back to the Beginning
I grew up in Citrus Heights, California, near Sacramento. I lived with my mother, Ruby Hundley, and spent every other week-end with my father and stepmother, John and Millie Hundley.
My parents named me Mandisa, which means "sweet" in the language of the Xhosa, a South African people group. Growing up, I heard my name pronounced every imaginable way. Kids used to tease me by calling me "Medusa," so I'm sure you can understand why I wasn't thrilled to be compared to an ugly mythological monster with snakes for hair. Because of that horrible nickname, in junior high I tried to change my name to "Kandie." After all, Mandisa means "sweet," and what is sweeter than candy? On the first day of school I would approach my teachers before class and tell them that I wanted to be called Kandie instead of Mandisa.
The result? Many of my classmates never knew what my real name was. When I enrolled in junior college, I finally decided it was time to let go of my childhood nickname and live under the name my parents gave me.
There's power and meaning in a name. And just as my friends struggled to switch from calling me "Kandie" to calling me "Mandisa," I've had to learn how to refer to my mother by a different name. In 2003, Mom decided that she wanted to return to her maiden name, Ruby Berryman. My brother, John, and I were grown, so she wouldn't have to explain why she and her children had different last names. I also think she wanted to clear out some painful memories from the past.
Like most children who grew up with divorced parents, I felt torn between my mom and my dad. I wanted to love them equally, but it's not easy to be loyal to both parents when they are divided by hurts that are as tender today as they were thirty years ago.
Like millions of working mothers, my mom was out of the house most of the day, so I spent many nonschool hours at home in front of the television. Combined with my love for food, those periods of inactivity began to pack extra pounds on my childish frame. In hindsight, I can understand why researchers have discovered that children who watch more than three hours of television a day are 50 percent more likely to be obese than kids who watch fewer than two hours. In fact, more than 60 percent of instances of being overweight can be linked to excess TV viewing.
I started getting heavy in late elementary school, and there I heard my share of fat jokes and sharp comments. Kids can be cruel, and even though I had always recited "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me," I would have preferred any number of broken bones to the sting of those condemning words.
Yet I could forget those mean remarks and nicknames when I went home and lost myself in a TV show. I'd go to the refrigerator or cupboard, grab a snack, and settle down on the sofa as I ate and laughed and let the television take me away from the real world.
When I wasn't watching TV, I'd go to the bathroom, pick up a curling iron, hold it like a microphone, and watch myself in the mirror as I sang along with the radio and pretended I was a talented television star.
Lately I've come to understand that I'm an introvert by nature. I used to think that introverts were shy and withdrawn, and I enjoy parties and people! Now I understand that being an introvert means that I need to be alone to reenergize. I suppose it's because of that tendency that I've always preferred sedentary activities to active ones. As I grew heavier, the excess pounds only reinforced my preference. My personality, combined with the ridicule I sometimes heard, led me to stay indoors and keep to myself.
I might have continued forever in a sort of vicious cycle-eating and sitting, sitting and eating-until a new interest entered my life by way of a book.
A Novel Leads the Way
My high school creative-writing teacher assigned the classic novel Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert A. Heinlein. Michael Valentine Smith, the hero of Heinlein's novel, is a human raised by Martians. He comes to earth as an innocent child, grows up, establishes a church, preaches love, and ultimately dies-the fate of most messiahs.
The book is pure science fiction, yet because it is filled with spiritual symbolism, it piqued my interest in God. The Lord began to woo me, His Spirit drew me, and I responded.
I don't want you to think I'd never been taught anything about God. My dad and stepmother went to church, but since I saw them only twice a month, church wasn't a regular part of my life. God wasn't a top priority for me, but thankfully, I was a top priority for Him.
Now I can see how God shaped events in my life to draw me to Him. On my sixteenth birthday, instead of asking for a car or the latest trendy outfit, I asked for a Bible. My friend Jennifer Bradshaw, a Christian, was eager to provide one for me. I thanked her and planned to read that Bible from cover to cover, but when you don't know the Lord and you don't understand what you're reading, the task can get a little daunting around Leviticus and Deuteronomy.
I eventually set the Bible aside, but God didn't give up on me. Two months later, a coworker of my mother's invited Mom and me to go to see the "Singing Christmas Tree" at her church. The three of us filed into a pew, and I don't think I blinked more than a half dozen times as the music and narration told the story of Jesus. I had heard the story before, but this time I felt something different. Since the story hadn't changed, I suspect something in me had changed.
My heart warmed as I watched Mary place the baby Jesus in the manger. Tears welled in my eyes as Jesus hung on the cross and begged the Father for mercy. Terror gripped me when I saw a frightening portrayal of hell and the devil. Joy leaped in my soul as Jesus ascended to heaven on what I assume were cables being manipulated by men backstage. I knew the actors were volunteers reading lines of a script, but their performance provided answers to several of the questions I had about Jesus. My heart had been hungering for knowledge, and that church drama fed my soul.
When the music ended, the pastor stood and explained that the story I had seen was a reenactment of actual events. Jesus was a real person. He was God's Son. He came to earth to save us-to save me!
The pastor read from the Bible and explained that since we are all sinners and no one is perfect, a relationship with Jesus is the only way we can reach heaven. When the pastor asked, "Would you like to know Jesus tonight?" I felt a stirring in the pit of my stomach.
The pastor continued: "While everyone bows their head and closes their eyes, if you want to meet Jesus, quietly repeat this prayer."
When he prayed, I prayed with him. I told Jesus I believed everything I had just seen on the stage. I was lost, and apparently He was in the business of helping lost people get found. I also confessed that I didn't want to go to hell, because it looked like a scary place. If He would accept my life, I would give it to Him and let Him be my Lord, my boss, from that day forward.
Then the pastor surprised me. I'd been thinking I could sit in the pew and give my life to Jesus quietly, but the pastor said, "If you prayed that prayer, raise your hand so we can all know about it."
Lifting my hand took every ounce of courage I possessed, but I did it. I was nervous, because my mom was sitting next to me. She'd been raised in church, but she didn't attend anymore. What would she think if I lifted my hand?
I raised my right hand, the arm nearest the aisle, thinking that maybe she wouldn't notice what I was doing. Then the pastor surprised me again. "Now," he said, "if you've lifted your hand, come down here so we can give you some material."
Gulp. Mom was sure to notice if I stood up and left the pew. For an instant I hesitated; then I realized that following through with Jesus was the most important thing I could do in that moment. So I stood and walked down the aisle, met the pastor, and took the material he gave me.
As I read the material, I learned that following Jesus is a day-by-day process of growth and learning. While Jesus accepts us the moment we accept Him, nobody becomes "Super Christian" the moment they meet Jesus.
I was no exception.
Church Meets a Need
Let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.
For someone who's decided to follow Christ, church attendance is important, because that's one place we can learn about God and spend time with other believers. I wanted to go, but I didn't have a way to get to church. Mom still didn't attend, and we didn't have enough money for me to buy a car. So nearly two years passed between the time I accepted Christ and the time I was able to go to church.
The first Sunday after I got my license, I drove my mom's car to Genesis Missionary Baptist Church. I had sung at a Martin Luther King Jr. event a few years back, and many of the organizers of the program attended that church. But to be honest, I chose Genesis because I had a crush on the young man who played drums for the church!
Thankfully, though, I loved everything about Genesis Missionary Baptist Church. At the end of the service, when the pastor asked people to come down if they wanted to become a church member, I stepped out of the pew and strode down the aisle with the determination of a quarterback. As the other members-including my drummer friend, Kevin-came up to hug and welcome me, I felt as accepted and loved as if I'd been part of that church family all my life.
From that day forward I began to dig deep to discover what following Christ was all about. No one had to remind or nag me to attend services; I was starving for knowledge about the Lord and what the Bible says about the way we should live.
After graduation from high school, I moved to Nashville to attend Fisk University (a Historically Black College/University). At school I met others who were following Christ, and I began to attend a small campus Bible study led by my new best friend, Chandra.
She was so patient with me and my questions. She had grown up in the church and was so knowledgeable about the ways of God. I, on the other hand, was a mere baby in the faith and inquisitive by nature. Through the good teaching at the Bible study, I became desperate to know Jesus better. I began to listen to music designed to glorify Him; I began to read books that took me deeper into spiritual topics and lessons.
As I matured, I began to understand that the path of the Christian life is not paved with stardust and flanked with smiling faces-it's a path of struggle, and sometimes it leads to suffering. But there are blessings in the struggle-and, yes, even in the suffering.
As I talked to Chandra and others about Jesus and His purpose for our lives, I wondered about His plan for me. What was I supposed to do with my life? All I had ever wanted to be was a singer, but was that what Jesus wanted for me?
I didn't have any other remarkable talents. In elementary school I tried to play the flute but decided that ethnic lips just weren't meant to pucker that way! In junior high I switched from the band to the choir, but it wasn't until high school that I felt validated as a singer.
In fact, my life took a major turn in high school, even before I decided to follow Christ. I entered El Camino Fundamental High School with a group of friends I'd known in junior high. We began to hang out with a group of people who were morally questionable. They drank, smoked, and stole from others.
In an attempt to be accepted by them, I, too, began to steal. I would go into the girls' locker room while the class was in PE and rifle through purses and bags that were kept in an unlocked locker. I knew it was wrong, but I felt "cool" doing it.
I was headed down a dangerous path and could have ended up in jail if not for a teacher who took notice of me. My high school choir director, Mr. Robinson, noticed my love for singing and worked with me to build my confidence.
In my freshman year, Mr. Robinson asked me to sing "You'll Never Walk Alone" for a state competition. I was terrified of the high note right before the end, but Mr. Robinson spent hours outside class giving me voice lessons and working with me to perfect my performance. I did improve during those weeks of rehearsing, but by the time of the competition, I still felt mediocre. The judge who evaluated me, however, said I had a great high voice, and his positive feedback did a lot to boost my confidence.
From that point on, I became a different person. I stopped hanging around with the crowd that had dragged me down and began spending time with people in choir and drama. I became more active in the performing arts department and took classes in music and drama.
Mr. Robinson and my drama teacher, Lee Elliott, saw something in me I didn't see in myself. From my sophomore year on, they cast me in the lead roles in all the musicals: In tenth grade I played Paulette DePaul in the musical Over Here. I was Golde in Fiddler on the Roof in my junior year, and in twelfth grade I was privileged to play Princess Winnifred in the musical comedy Once Upon a Mattress.
I began to see myself as a performer, and with my teachers' encouragement ringing in my heart, I practiced and concentrated on my singing. I realize now that many people are born with a musical voice-I don't remember ever not singing. But my talent grew as I learned more about my vocal instrument and how to use it.
While Mr. Robinson and other teachers were teaching me how to breathe correctly, sight-read music, and sing from my diaphragm, I thought it was a waste of time. Now, however, I use all of those skills on a regular basis. When gifted young singers ask me where to begin, I highly recommend participating in choir, competitions, music-theory classes, and even piano lessons. The skills developed in those activities can give you an edge in a world where good singers are a dime a dozen.
Excerpted from IDOLeyes by MANDISA HUNDLEY ANGELA HUNT Copyright © 2007 by Mandisa Hundley. Excerpted by permission.
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