Years ago, Mandisa Hundley would lock the bathroom door of her Citrus Heights home, pick up a bottle of shampoo and pretend it was a microphone. Performing her favorite Whitney Houston songs, she would imagine the stage, the fans and what she would say when she accepted her Grammy Award.
But last month, when her 2013 album “Overcomer” won the Grammy she used to dream about, the 37-year-old singer wasn’t on hand at Los Angeles’ Staples Center accept her trophy, choosing instead to watch the awards show from her home in Tennessee.
“There were several reasons,” Mandisa said of her absence. “The short version is that physically, emotionally, spiritually, it wasn’t the right environment for me.”
A far better environment for the “American Idol” alumna will be The Pavilion at UC Davis, where she will perform her R&B inflected brand of Christian music as part of “The Hits Deep Tour,” arriving Monday.
Skipping the Grammy ceremony was, in part, a way to stay humble. “I just feel like it would have been easy for me to slip into pride,” she said.
Mandisa said she didn’t want to start thinking that her win in the best Christian contemporary music album category was all about her – she did it for her Lord, and it was her faith that let her make “Overcomer” in the first place.
It’s not that she doesn’t appreciate the Grammy, Mandisa added. The win will certainly help boost her career, but she doesn’t want the pursuit of accolades to overtake her or her cause.
“There is power in Grammys, but the moment I start defining myself and my power on that is when I begin to lose my power,” she said.
The power to reach out to an audience with her message of determination in the face of ever-present struggle, the will to overcome, is sourced from her need to glorify God, she said. If the Grammy gets more people to listen to the album, then that’s what matters to her.
But as she pointed out, “Overcomer” didn’t need a Grammy win to debut No. 29 on the Billboard 200. And the album didn’t require a gilded gramophone to shoot to the top of the Christian Billboard charts.
Mandisa has been through plenty on her way here. In the years between shampoo microphones and making “Overcomer,” she trained her voice, dropped her last name, suffered Simon Cowell’s abuse on the fifth season of “American Idol” and made three Grammy-nominated albums (not including her Christmas album). But her only goal is to show others that “an overcomer is somebody who gets up every day, looks at the battle every day and chooses to fight.”
“And that’s why I love the tour, because I can actually look into the audience and see tears in people’s faces and look them in the eye and say they’re an overcomer,” she added.
Monday’s event, headlined by fellow Christian artist TobyMac, will be a parade of hits that listeners of Christian radio should immediately recognize, Mandisa said. But she also noted that strangers to Christian music might want to give the songs a shot for the musical value alone.
“I think people would be surprised that we can have beats and drums and rapping,” she said. “Christian music comes in all forms.”
The concert will be a homecoming of sorts for the singer. She didn’t make it back to California for Christmas, she said, and she’s looking forward to seeing her mother, who still lives in Citrus Heights.
“I’m going to be camping out at home,” Mandisa said. “It’s kind of funny for me, because my room has become my shrine, with album covers and pictures of me, so it’s kind of creepy for me.”
The future will likely hold more photo opportunities for the recording artist. She recently gave a TedX talk on Bible study and may start looking into more speaking engagements to complement her singing.
Or she may focus more on helping others lose weight and live healthy lives. Her time on “American Idol” was marked in part by Cowell’s comments about her physical appearance. Mandisa, who has spoken frequently about her weight, publicly forgave Cowell for his jabs at her. She later lost more than 100 pounds through exercise including Zumba.
Staying true to her convictions, she said, will help her find the right path forward.
“Wherever God leads, I will follow,” she said.