Gospel Channel Holds 'Idol' Like Talent Search
SCOTT SIMON, host:
Move over Simon, Paula and Randy. Don't pretend you don't know who we're talking about. Gospel Dream is coming to town.
Mr. RON GRANT(ph) (Judge, Gospel Dream 2006): I like to hear your range, but I don't want to hear too much (singing) ahhh ahhh. I don't want to hear it. I want to hear (singing) Just to take him at his word.
SIMON: Ooh, that's Ron Grant, a judge for Gospel Dream 2006, the Gospel Music Channel's search for talent. Gospel Dream is an American Idol-style competition with regional contests held in six cities across the country, culminating in a televised national final. The winner's rewarded a recording contract from the Zamba(ph) label, that's a division of Sony BMG. And the Gospel Music Channel will broadcast the second season of Gospel Dream in the fall.
Regional auditions are being held in Washington, D.C. this weekend. We have two of the contestants in our studio with us. Yvette Thomas is an accounts payable manager in the District of Columbia. Thanks so much for being with us.
Ms. YVETTE THOMAS (Contestant, Gospel Dream): Thank you for having me, Scott.
SIMON: And Joseph Johnson is a student at Morgan State University. He's from Forestville, Maryland. Thank you, Mr. Johnson.
Mr. JOSEPH JOHNSON (Contestant, Gospel Dream): Thank you.
SIMON: And Ms. Thomas, you first. How'd you end up in the competition?
Ms. THOMAS: My girlfriend called me and she says, I need you to go online right now and I need you to register for this competition. I had no idea what she was talking about and I was on the road and she actually went on and registered me on my behalf.
SIMON: Really? Well, you must have a famous voice among your friends, then.
Ms. THOMAS: Yes, they are my number one fans.
SIMON: You sing in the church?
Ms. THOMAS: I do.
SIMON: Which one?
Ms. THOMAS: (Unintelligible) Christian Center in Fort Washington, Maryland where my uncle is my apostle and my aunt is my pastor. So, it's a small family church, but I do sing there every Sunday.
SIMON: Ah, well, they're going to be rooting for you, won't they?
Ms. THOMAS: Yes, sir.
SIMON: And Mr. Johnson, how did you wind up in the competition?
Mr. JOHNSON: Well, actually, I was on a family vacation up in Deep Creek, Maryland and I just happened to be on the computer looking for upcoming auditions and it just happened to jump onto me through Yahoo. I said, well, let me try it, ain't no harm in trying. So, I might as well.
SIMON: Do you sing in a church too?
Mr. JOHNSON: Yes, I do.
SIMON: Which one?
Mr. JOHNSON: I attend Hemingway Memorial A.M.E. Church located in District Heights, Maryland, and the pastor is the Reverend Samuel E. Hayward III.
SIMON: How long have you been singing gospel?
Mr. JOHNSON: I've been singing gospel since I was about four or five years old.
SIMON: Just began because it was the thing to do in your family?
Mr. JOHNSON: It caught my attention when I was young so it was something I wanted to stick with. It's what makes me feel very good inside.
SIMON: Yeah. And Ms. Thomas, what about you?
Ms. THOMAS: I've actually been singing, they tell me, since I was three.
SIMON: What were you singing when you were three, did they tell you?
Ms. THOMAS: My dad said, though, when I was very young, which was around two or three, that I was always humming, and my grandmother always had spirituals and gospel songs playing on the radio in the house. So, I didn't know the words, but I would try to hum the tune, and for Christmas when I was three, my dad brought me a microphone and that's...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. THOMAS: A star was born.
SIMON: Did he connect to anything or just a microphone?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. THOMAS: It was actually on the little KB Toys, the little recorder...
SIMON: Yeah, I've seen those, Mr. Microphone, yeah.
Ms. THOMAS: Yeah.
SIMON: Yeah, oh, gosh. So, it sounds like the music was always in your heart.
Ms. THOMAS: Always and through the years, I've sang in different groups where they tried to get me to sing something other than gospel and it just didn't feel right. I just - I didn't have that connection. So, you know, gospel music is my heart, it's my love, it's my passion.
SIMON: What - both of you, what does the music mean to you, because, you know, the - for those of us who watch and listen to great gospel, there's just that there's a note of conviction, of passion in there that just animates everything that makes it so fascinating. What is it about the music that draws both of you in?
Mr. JOHNSON: Well, for me personally, it's uplifting. It's the type of song that when I'm down, I could just listen to it and it can comfort me and be there for me when my friends (unintelligible) be there.
SIMON: And Ms. Thomas, what about for you?
Ms. THOMAS: I would have to say in addition to that, because I can attest to that very thing, but in addition to that, as far as singing the music, what brings me joy is that I'm able to touch other people in a way that, you know, other genres of music just can't touch their souls like gospel music. There's nothing like it.
SIMON: I want to ask you both a question that, you know, we don't ask a lot in our form of broadcasting, but when you sing, do you feel the spirit of God move within you?
Ms. THOMAS: Definitely.
Mr. JOHNSON: Always, always.
Ms. THOMAS: You know, and that's what makes the difference, the anointing, which is the spirit of God moving within you and manifesting outside of you.
Mr. JOHNSON: Because you could just sing, but if you don't have that anointing on your voice, then there's not much you could do, you can't touch somebody if you're just singing just to be singing. But if you're ministering to somebody through your song, then there's a difference and it can actually save someone's life because you don't know what somebody could be going through that day and that time that you're singing, and it could just change their life in a quick second.
Ms. THOMAS: In a moment.
SIMON: Some nuts and bolts questions. Do you pick your selection, do they suggest things to you, is there a kind of hit list from which you have to select?
Ms. THOMAS: There is actually a pre-approved song list that we have to choose from...
Mr. JOHNSON: It's broken into three categories, to traditional, contemporary and Christian gospel music.
SIMON: What did you choose to sing, Ms. Thomas?
Ms. THOMAS: I actually am still pinned between about three songs. I have narrowed it down, but I haven't really made a concrete decision as of yet.
Mr. JOHNSON: Lord, whatever you want me to sing...
Ms. THOMAS: Exactly.
Mr. JOHNSON: ... I open up my mouth and it comes out.
Ms. THOMAS: But you know what, that's a part of moving in the spirit because a lot of times when I get up to minister, I don't know until I'm about to open my mouth, you know, and sometimes it's all about being in tune with God's spirit and being in tune with His will.
Mr. JOHNSON: Because you could sing one thing, but He wants you to sing...
Ms. THOMAS: He wants you to sing something else.
Mr. JOHNSON: Depending on how His spirit is moving throughout the place at the time.
Ms. THOMAS: Exactly.
Mr. JOHNSON: You've got to be open with your mind and your heart.
Ms. THOMAS: And your heart, exactly.
SIMON: You know, we've locked the studio door and the two of you are not getting out until you sing.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. Johnson, could we hear from you first, would you mind?
Mr. JOHNSON: Yes.
SIMON: What are you going to sing for us?
Mr. JOHNSON: I will sing, Blessed Assurance, an old gospel hymn.
SIMON: Okay. Thank you.
(Soundbite of hymn Blessed Assurance)
Mr. JOHNSON: (Singing) Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine! Heir of salvation, purchase of God, born of his Spirit, washed in his blood. This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the daylong. This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the daylong.
SIMON: Thank you. Ms. Thomas, what are you going to honor us with?
Ms. THOMAS: I am actually going to do a portion of an original piece that I wrote entitled, Have Your Way.
SIMON: Okay, thank you.
(Soundbite of song, Have Your Way)
Ms. THOMAS: (Singing) Oh, I feel God's presence in thee's face. I see the Lord's spirit feeling everything, every special, every face. The power of the living God has shone today and some (unintelligible) don't last unless God has His way.
SIMON: Thank you. Well, it's been wonderful to talk to both of you.
Mr. JOHNSON: Thank you for having us.
Ms. THOMAS: Thank you very much.
SIMON: I wish you both a lot of luck.
Mr. JOHNSON: Thank you.
Ms. THOMAS: Thank you.
SIMON: Yvette Thomas of Washington, D.C., Joseph Johnson of Forestville, Maryland, they are both contestants in the Washington, D.C. regional competition for Gospel Dream 2006. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.