Tune into any Christian radio station, and you will soon hear Mandisa belting out, “You’re an overcomer! Stay in the fight to the final round.” Over the past few years, as this song climbed the charts, Mandisa struggled to believe the words she sang. Her journey through those dark years is the inspiration for her new album, Out of the Dark, set to release May 19, 2017.
Mandisa is one of American Idol’s most successful alums. Her first album, True Beauty, debuted at No. 1 on the Top Christian Album Charts and gave Mandisa her first Grammy nomination. Mandisa won two Grammy Awards in 2014 for her album Overcomer. The title track stayed at No. 1 for twelve weeks.
Soon after Overcomer’s release, Mandisa stepped out of the spotlight. The last few years, her voice has been silent. After losing a friend to cancer, Mandisa withdrew from friends and family.
I just shut down, isolated, and started turning to my old friend food for comfort. My loved ones were reaching out and I would ignore their phone calls and text messages. It got to the point where I had friends who, out of love and concern, came to my house banging on the door and I just put in some ear plugs and pretended I wasn’t there. I was angry at the world. (Press release)
Those voice mail messages open the deluxe edition of Out of the Dark. It is sobering to hear the concern in her friends’ voices. The silence from Mandisa was real and scary.
Mandisa’s story doesn’t end in the quiet darkness. The opening song, “I’m Still Here,” tells the story of her battle with and victory over depression.
I know it’s been a while since
Anybody see me smile and
Shame had me thinking it was
Thought my best days were gone, yeah
Turns out, that I was wrong ’cause
This is my comeback song, yeah
And by the grace of God
I’m still here
The narrative continues in the title track, “Out of the Dark,” and her first radio release, “Unfinished.” This trio of songs gives listeners a transparent look at Mandisa’s struggle. She sings, “I was deep in the shadows, I was blind and alone,” a sentiment that will resonate with those struggling with depression. She acknowledges the shift in the message of Overcomer and this album: “I used to be the one preaching it to you that you could overcome. I still believe it, but it ain’t easy. That world I painted, where things just all work out, it started changing, and I started having doubts.” In the world of Christian music (and Christianity in general), it is refreshing to hear someone admit they sometimes struggle to believe the words they sing.
I appreciate Mandisa’s presentation of the hard parts in the setting of upbeat music. The tempo stays steady, her voice pregnant with the hope she wants to share. She finds a way to sing about the darkness without being dark. This is particularly true in the peppy “Comeback Kid,” which is a bright rebirth of the “Overcomer” message; she may have struggled to believe it, but she never let go of it. The final song on the album is the pinnacle of hope. “Back to Life” is a powerful proclamation of victory over shame, depression, and every stronghold, in the name of Jesus. Put it on repeat and feel the chains fall at your feet.
Toby Mac and Kirk Franklin join Mandisa in a plea for social justice. “Bleed the Same” is a timely message about the troubling headlines we can’t escape. The deluxe edition includes a clip from the 2016 Dove Awards where Kirk Franklin speaks candidly about our responsibility to fight for social justice. I remember hearing his gravelly voice that night, full of emotion. It simultaneously sucked the air out of the auditorium and breathed a breath of hope into the hearts of the audience. His powerful prayer from that night brings “Bleed the Same” to a sobering, solemn conclusion.
“Bleed” isn’t the only collaboration on this album. “My First Love” features CCM favorite Jeremy Camp. Brit Nicole joins her for “What You’re Worth.” This is one of my favorites from the album. The soundtrack is danceable, and the Jesus-girl-power message is solid. The powerhouse vocals can hang with anything you might hear on the top 40 from artists like Meghan Trainor and Katy Perry (but with mom-approved lyrics).
Mandisa shares her struggle with belief after her friend’s death in the emotional “Prove Me Wrong.” “You could have healed her. You’ve done it before…Instead, you took her, left a young family behind.” She takes her doubts to God and asks him to prove her wrong. This song is incredibly brave, the echo of so many hurting hearts. Faith isn’t always tidy and the answers aren’t always easy. On her website, Mandisa gives listeners a place to honor those who are now “face to face with Jesus.” On the Out of the Dark Memory Board, visitors can upload a photo and share their loved ones’ story.
Story is the most powerful tool for communicators. Be it pastors, politicians, or artists, the hook is always the story behind the words, the platform, or the music. It is how we relate to and then believe the message. Out of the Dark is an album with a story. Knowing the backstory gives Mandisa’s new release transformational power. “My hope is that people will be on this journey with me,” explains Mandisa. “When I began, I was in a really dark place, but where I am today is so much better and so much lighter!”