Whenever you think you can’t do something, read Le’Andria Johnson’s story and reconsider.
The season three winner of BET’s Sunday Best has weathered enough of life's challenges to give Job a run for his money. And like Job, she is now reaping her reward. Her CD, The Awakening of Le'Andria Johnson, is due September 6 on Music World Gospel.
Johnson was born in Orlando, Florida. One could say she was born to sing, because she began her career (unofficially) at age two by delivering a public performance of the Williams Brothers’ “I’m Just a Nobody.”
As she got older, her musical influences included the late Rev. James Moore, Dorinda Clark Cole, Fred Hammond, John P. Kee, the Winans, and Commissioned. Still, it wasn’t until she was a teenager that she realized that she might be able to sing for a living.
While she served as praise and worship leader for her father's church, her big break came at age seventeen, when she sang in front of an audience of 8,000 at Pastor Shirley Caesar’s annual conference. “That was my first big platform, and I was shocked at the positive response by the people,” Johnson recalled.
But the road ahead wasn’t easy. Twice divorced with three children (two boys and a girl), and a succession of family tragedies and setbacks, Johnson found it difficult to ignite her dream. For example, she saved money to enter the studio and record, but in the end had little show for it but more frustration.
She had been a fan of BET’s American Idol-style Sunday Best competition since its inception, but it never entered her mind to audition. It was her best friend, Barbara Fields, who ultimately persuaded her to participate.
“Barbara was with me when I lost my house to foreclosure,” Johnson reflected, “and she encouraged me to try out. She was persistent, like a gnat around food! She kept saying, ‘You gotta go, you gotta try out!’ I finally got up the nerve, but it wasn’t easy preparing for it. I didn’t have any money, I didn’t have a car, I didn’t have any way to get to [New Orleans], but by God’s grace I got there. It was wonderful and it turned out to be something great.”
As Johnson got closer to the finals, she thought it would end up a tie between Elder Goldwire [McClendon of the Savettes] and her. “He is such a phenomenal singer, and he was pressing really hard. He memorized songs and he kept up with us young folk. Here I am, in my twenties, and he’s like 80! I have so much respect for him. So in the end, I was very shocked and surprised when I won, but I am very grateful at the same time.”
A special treat for Johnson was when her children saw her on television and got to be part of the live audience. “I didn’t think that they would remember it, or be into it as much, but when we finally got some alone time together, my daughter started singing one of the songs I did on the show. They were calling me the ‘Sunday Best Queen!’ Now I can start a song and my three-year-old son can finish it. I thought, ‘They’re listening, they’re paying attention. That’s good!’”
Today, life is different. She picked up 15,000 followers on Twitter in three weeks' time. She is recognized in public and receives encouragement and suggestions from her musical inspirations, such as Dorinda Clark Cole and John P. Kee. She said that Mary Mary, Kirk Franklin, Kim Burrell and Fred Hammond have given her “pep talks: they tell me to keep my head up.”
The singer explained that the theme behind The Awakening of Le’Andria Johnson is simple. “Live and not die. I tell myself that: you shall live and not die. Always remember that the ‘yes’ inside of you is the ‘yes’ for somebody else.”
The response to the album's first single, “Jesus,” has been positive. “Team Le’Andria has been going crazy, helping to promote the single,” she said.
Johnson also singled out the opening song, “Cast the First Stone,” as carrying an important message. “It is about not judging others. We need to keep our brothers and sisters lifted up. Work on yourself and keep your mind focused on what you need to do, not what others think you need to do."
The Sunday Best champ and her children are now in an apartment but her desire is to eventually get back into a house. “I don’t know when, but I know it will work out in its own time. God has a very unusual way of blessing you when the time is right. I’m grateful that I’m even in an apartment.”
What advice can she give aspiring gospel artists? “Believe in yourself, no matter what,” she said. “Go humble before the people. Always remain humble. Give glory to God and He will bring you up. Allow God to use you."
She added: “If you know that you can do something, or if you have a dream, know that you can. But also know that there will trials and tribulations, and they will make you strong. You are going to have to go through to get to. I’m a witness.”