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‘American Idol’ Alumna Mandisa Sets Her Sights on Country Music

Noel Vasquez, Getty Images

Gospel singer Mandisa was one of the most memorable contestants on the fifth season of ‘American Idol,’ back in 2005. Finishing in ninth place on the show, she immediately started churning out critically acclaimed music, with her debut single, ‘Only the World,’ soaring to the top of the charts one year later. Since 2007, the 34-year-old has released four pop-leaning studio albums, but her heart is now set on an entirely different genre.

“I’m a fan of country music, which was new to me because I didn’t think that I ever would be. Let’s be honest, I’m a black girl,” she laughingly tells CMT, “so you don’t see that a lot.”

The powerhouse vocalist, who made a living singing background vocals for the likes of Trisha Yearwood and Shania Twain before her stint on ‘Idol,’ even has her eye on collaborating with one country’s sweethearts. “I always tell Kellie [Picker] I would love to do a song with her,” she notes of her fellow Season 5 competitor. “I think we need to do a duet somehow. I would love for that to happen.”

While the California native would be new to country fans, she’s an entirely new person to loyal followers as well, thanks to a new svelte figure that is 120 pounds lighter than her weight on ‘Idol.’

“My entire life I’ve struggled with my weight, and so I have often done the quick fix fad diet, lose as much weight as I can really quickly,” she admits. “The thing that’s keeping me motivated is looking at what this is really about, and for so long I’ve turned to food other than dealing with my emotions and other than turning to the Lord. My biggest inspiration is wanting to honor Him and to be obedient to Him in my eating. Also, I’m learning to actually deal with my emotions instead of stuffing them down with chocolate, which is what I’ve done for so long.”

Her new regimen includes a healthy diet and plenty of exercise, but it’s a battle she fights every day. “I weigh every two weeks, and I had been doing everything right for two weeks, and then I stepped on the scale and I gained 1.8 pounds,” recalls the singer-songwriter. “I was so frustrated that I was on my way to [workout program] Zumba and I tweeted, ‘Forget Zumba. If I’m going to gain weight, I’m not going to gain it eating right and exercising. I’m going to gain it by going back to bed.’”

Her fans quickly rallied around her. “I was surprised at the tweets that said, ‘I appreciate your realness’ and ‘I appreciate you sharing not just your good days but your bad days, too, because it lets me know that I’m not alone,’” she recalls. “Something about that made me realize people often think that [as celebrities] we have it all together … And I just realized people are relieved to know that they are not alone.”

Mandisa’s latest album, ‘What If We Were Real,’ which hit shelves earlier this year, chronicles her struggles and triumphs in losing the excess pounds.

“My albums always reflect what’s happening in my life,” she notes, “but it just so happens that what was happening in my life wasn’t all roses this time.”

Through that process, the Nashville resident created music that gives listeners an intimate glimpse into her own reality. “When I went in to write with my two co-writers I said, ‘Y’all I don’t feel like acting like everything is great in my life,’” recounts the tunesmith. “I said, ‘What if we were real? What if we were honest and show people the good, the bad and the ugly?’”

The end result included her No. 1 radio single, ‘Stronger,’ and a busy tour schedule that takes her to Indiana, Missouri and New York this summer. Keep track of her concert itinerary here.

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