In the realm of primetime talent-search shows, the quest for fame and fortune is usually the name of the game. In the case of Gospel Dream victor Melinda Watts, her vision for competing was much more far-reaching: She never wanted it to be about her, but about inspiring others to touch the sky through her music and ministry.
People Get Ready, Watts' striking debut on Razor & Tie, is the first fruit of that desire–yet another milestone in a legacy that has already impacted thousands for a greater cause, one soul at a time.
"I want people to walk away saying, ' I really believe,'" says Watts when asked about her expectations for People Get Ready. "These songs are a testament to my faith–that there is a God who loves you and cares for you."
That same message lies at the core of People Get Ready, a clarion call to live life more abundantly in the here and now, while looking forward to an eternity on the Earth made new.
In the same spirit of its rallying title track, a thumping rendition of the 1996 Crystal Lewis classic, the album is a dynamic extension of Watts' phenomenal run on the American Idol-styled Gospel Dream (Gospel Music Channel), while asserting her as an artist with much more than just an exceptional voice. A singer/songwriter in her own right, Watts self-penned the majority of People Get Ready, tag-teaming with some of gospel's biggest hitmakers–among them, award-winners Smokie Norful, Aaron Lindsey, J Moss, Myron Butler, and Bernie Herms–for a batch of songs that are at once faith-affirming, current, and relevant to the times that we live in.
Slick grooves, hopeful lyrics, and an exuberant vibe are interwoven throughout her debut album, which recalls other leading ladies of urban gospel like Mary Mary, Kierra Sheard, and Coko. From the explosive, dance-friendly "Say Yes" to the praise-filled "Happy," there's no doubt as to why Watts won over judges and audiences alike.
"All of these are songs are songs from way back," says the Jersey-born Rutgers University graduate, who earned degrees in sociology and women's studies and went on to become a teacher before venturing out into her Gospel Dream adventure. "This was the time that God saw fit to release them."
Influenced by a wide-ranging crop of power vocalists–including Shirley Caesar, Yolanda Adams, Natalie Grant, and Reba McEntire, among others–Watts infused People Get Ready with a cross-platform appeal that normally takes up-and-coming artists several albums to perfect. "My parents weren't musical people but they really exposed me to different types of music," she says. It really shows. On the one hand are the urban-flavored pop anthems, like the reassuring "Try Again," a potent hit-in-the-making about moving past a difficult situation, and the celebratory first single "So Good," a reggae-infused summer jam where Watts gets testimonial about the many ways God has brought her through in her personal walk. Both of these do a fine job of displaying Watts' motivational side, much like a younger Yolanda Adams.
On the other end of the spectrum is the singer's respect for the sounds of yesteryear, evident in her cover of the Carlis Moody Jr. staple "Available to You" (a duet with J Moss) and the stirring "Faith That Conquers," a modern-day take on the Vanessa Bell Armstrong standard.
"That song carried me through the whole recording process," Watts says. "I had a lot of fear about how people would respond to the music. The main thing was, I wanted God to be pleased. I wanted people to walk away from the songs being uplifted."
Mature beyond her years, Watts didn't initially intend to audition for the 2008 season of Gospel Dream. It took some convincing on her sister Kisha's part for the singer to take a leap of faith and see God's big picture.
"There was always this small voice inside of me telling me that if I wanted to inspire kids to follow their dreams, I needed to follow my own dreams," says Watts, who at the time was pregnant with her daughter Lyric and had every intention to put her life on hold to focus on motherhood.
But God had different plans. Since she was crowned the champ of Gospel Dream, the former English teacher has used her new platform in gospel entertainment to advance her philanthropic efforts, especially the work of her own nonprofit, The About Face Network, and Heaven's House for Girls, an organization that nurtures young women to fulfill their potential in society and become everything God wants them to be.
In addition, Watts oversees Project Sunday, an afterschool program she started while working as a teacher in California. Through daily affirmation and a curricular component, the program was eventually adopted by the state of California to empower at-risk girls from impoverished areas to break out of the cycles and patterns that keep them from getting ahead in life. All of the above render Melinda Watts, hands down, one of the most purpose-driven performers to ever grace the reality-singing circuit–a singer who puts her money where her voice is. As for where Watts sees herself in the future, she is leaving it all in God's hands. Just don't ask her which of her two life callings is her favorite.
"People ask me all the time if I'd choose working with kids over music or vice versa," Watts says. "I honestly can't answer that question. I think both are really a gift. They come from the same well. It's not like I'm a singer trying to teach on the side, or a teacher trying to sing on the side. This is really who I am as an artist."