Le’Andria Johnson is one of the most promising female vocalists in gospel music today.
The Season Three BET Sunday Best champ’s estimable talent is evident on her debut CD, The Awakening of Le’Andria Johnson. The album lies somewhere between an EP and a full project in length, but it contains enough material to prove that the 28-year-old’s voice is marinated, well beyond its years, in the heartbreaks and deliverances of life.
Hers is a gospel blues voice that has known pain and demons but can exorcise them, as she does on the current single, “Jesus.” When on the “Sunday Best Medley 2,” she sings, “I may have lost my house/but God has got a mansion for me,” it comes not from the lexicon of gospel music metaphors but from the raw wounds of personal experience. It’s what propelled her past Elder Goldwire McClendon of the Savettes, someone who was singing gospel before Johnson’s parents were born, in the finals of Sunday Best.
But the album is not all sorrow and strife. The playfully doowoppish “New Reasons” finds Johnson confidently leaving behind a human love for a celestial one infinitely more true.
Still, it’s the traditional-style Sunday Best medleys that bear the most witness to Johnson’s emotive quality. On the first medley, she does Fred Hammond’s “Running Back to You” better than Hammond himself. For the second, she out shouts Myron Butler on his Latin-tinged “Set Me Free.”
There will no doubt be comparisons, and appropriately so, between Johnson and Jennifer Hudson, another reality competition alumna whose musical development came straight out of the church. And with similarly intelligent direction and management, Johnson’s capacity also has no limits.
The project’s short length makes sense, strangely, because it has all of the flavor without the lean that gives critics pause for doubt. As such, The Awakening of Le’Andria Johnson will delight the Sunday Best winner’s legion of fans and – for those of us who rarely glimpse TV outside of the news and weather – a chance to hear the awakening of an emerging gospel giant.
Five of Five Stars
Picks: “Jesus,” “Beams of Heaven,” “Stand by Me.”