*In June of 2010, with a voice that tranquilized 20 finalists and garnered 2 million votes from television viewers, Le’Andria Johnson became the season 3 winner of Sunday Best.
At first, it was not clear where that victory would lead her: for some time the praise and worship leader from Florida was not signed to a label and she hadn’t made any major appearanced until she appeared on BET’s Celebration of Gospel over six months after the win.
One year later, alas, Johnson roars again with the new single “Jesus,” from her forthcoming freshman CD, “The Awakening of Leandria Johnson” to be released on Music World Gospel.
Along with waiting to be signed, the trouble was Johnson had second thoughts about a gospel music career, admitting in a You Tube video ” … Even after ‘Sunday Best’ I found myself going back to where I had came from … I didn’t think I’d minister again.”
Her journey to Sunday Best in part kept her close to fan’s hearts: At the time of the auditions, Johnson was then a 27-year-old divorced mother with 3 little mouths to feed who auditioned for the show a day after her home foreclosed, wearing jeans, gym socks and flip flops. She was almost disqualified based on her looks alone.
Under the circumstances, one would think that Johnson’s chance at stardom would be more than enough to turn her life around.
What made Leandria Johnson’s feet so cold that she almost walked away from golden opportunity to fulfill her life’s dream?
The first stanza of “Jesus” offers a hint: “Look at myself in the mirror, religion looking back at me. I threw my hands in the air and the law arrested me. Girl interrupted, I needed to break out and get freedom.”
Throughout “Jesus” Johnson, the daughter of a pastor, scoffs at religion with full throttled grit, which ironically, is the very basis of the sacred music she sings so well.
As Johnson vocally explains how calling on “Jesus” helped her climb over religious and other obstacles from her past in the foreground, background vocals slowly harmonize “Jesus” to the syrupy slow smooth R&B-styled track.
Johnson’s emotionally raw style is everything you’d expect it to be coming from a spiritually fatigued child of God, who has been on the other end of “holier than thou” criticism of one too many church people. Moaning, screaming, gripping runs and releasing notes at just the right place of syncopation, unbridled praise. The song ends with “The Lords Prayer” and Johnson in testifying mode, calling on Jesus after each sentence.
All of the awe-inspiring qualities of Johnson’s voice that helped her snag the Sunday Best crown are evident on this debut effort.
A sure-enough balm for the wearied soul, listening to “Jesus” is like jumping in the river of Jordan from a music critic’s perspective. Just when I was about to turn a deaf ear to the musical cloning that has saturated the entertainment business, Leandria Johnson’s voice has revived hope for this generation of singers.
Musically, if I were a fan of cloning, her exceptional pitch and tonal quality would be a setting on auto tune equipment.
In terms of its message: “Jesus” is an ever-present help in the time of trouble.
Not since Jasmyne Sullivan’s entrée has a young woman’s vocal maturity and certainty in presentation snatched my attention this way.
So wait for “The Awakening of Leandria Johnson,” If the finished product is remotely as polished as the prelude, then wait with pleasure, like you’re outside a birthing room waiting to hear if it’s a girl or boy, except in this case you’ll find out if a star is born.