Interview recorded on March 14, 2012
In May of 2010, BET began airing Season 3 of their gospel singing competition, "Sunday Best." Thousands would audition for the show including a hesistant Le'Andria Johnson who drove ten hours (with her best friend and family members) to give it a shot. Millions of votes later, Le'Andria emerged as the final person standing, and was crowned the show's Season 3 winner.
Le'Andria revealed why it took over a year for her debut album, THE AWAKENING OF LE'ANDRIA JOHNSON, to be released, and shared the joy of winning a Grammy Award with her debut single, "Jesus."
She also talked to Darnell Meyers-Johnson about her new release, THE EVOLUTION OF LE'ANDRIA JOHNSON, and explained how Raphael Saadiq became involved in the project.
Good day. This is Darnell Meyers Johnson for SoulMusic.com. Today I ‘m speaking with a lady who is making Gospel and R&B audiences pay attention. She won season 3 of BET’s talent competition, Sunday Best. Her album debuted at the top of the Gospel charts, and her very first single just earned her a Grammy Award.
Today, I am speaking with Miss Le’Andria Johnson. How are you Le’Andria?
Le’Andria: I’m good; how are you?
Darnell: I’m good. I just want to say that we do appreciate the time you’re taking out today to speak with us.
Le’Andria: Oh, no problem. Thanks for having me.
Darnell: Sure thing. Well, first things first: I want to say congratulations on your recent Grammy win.
Le’Andria: Thank you.
Darnell: It was for Best Gospel / Contemporary Christian Music Performance. Were you surprised to win? And I’m only asking you that because the people in your category--a lot of them have been doing this for years and years, and you just started with your first single. Was that a surprise?
Le’Andria: It was definitely a surprise, but God had a plan for me and I was just … I just received it with an open heart, open arms, so I just thank God for the opportunity. It was no doing of my own; it definitely was God and the support of Music World. We all worked hard for that.
Darnell: Congratulations, again. It was just announced recently that Sunday Best is going to go on to a fifth season. As I just said a minute ago, you were season 3’s winner. A lot of people reading and listening to this will be familiar with the show, but there will be a few people who may not. So, just for those few who may not be familiar with the show, how would you describe it?
Le’Andria: It was a wonderful platform; it was a wonderful window that was open. It’s amazing. It teaches you a lot of things. I just thank God for Sunday Best because it definitely changed my life in a major way, and for that I am able to provide even better for my kids, being a single mother and being able to help others less fortunate than myself. So it’s definitely a pathway, I guess to say--to be able to walk down on; a good one at that.
Darnell: Would it be fair to say that the show is sort of kind of like American Idol, but for gospel artists?
Le’Andria: What do you mean by that?
Darnell: In terms of the format of the show. I’m just trying to describe it for someone who may not have seen it before.
Le’Andria: Well, I think, for being four years in now, it’s still a baby, and we’re still growing, and we just have to get a lot of people to respond and support. So, I think, if we get a lot of people to respond and support, I think it will grow to the potential that it needs to grow to, but it’s on its way.
Darnell: Tell me a little bit about what was going on with you, either personally or musically, before you got on the show. What was going on in your life at that point?
Le’Andria: I was praise and worship leader for my dad’s church … just going to church, normal as normal would be, still providing for my family, my children, and in the studio trying to get some things to happen, and just staying busy. That’s what was going on before, and then God allowed for me to be in Sunday Best, and then he made the load lighter a little bit, but you still have to work hard. So that’s what’s been going on.
Darnell: Tell me about the moment that you decided to audition for the show. What made you decide to do that?
Le’Andria: Well, I didn’t decide to do it. My best friend mentioned it to me. I watched Yanna Crawley--she was the winner of season 2--I watched her sing and I was just intrigued at the voices, at the different voices that were on there … Shari Addison, you know, and so I was like, wow.
At that moment I didn’t want to sing, or didn’t want to audition, but I just got into a rough hold, or a bind, and my best friend, Barbara Fields--she came to me and was like, “Well you need to try out for this; it’s time. You need to believe in yourself. You got to stretch out and just have faith.” At the time I didn’t want to, and I’m glad I listened to her. Her, myself, my oldest brother, and my uncle--we got on the road and drove 10 hours to New Orleans and auditioned, and the rest is history.
Darnell: And the beautiful thing is, well, right now there’s so many of these different types of singing competitions on TV, but your audition I remember is just one of the best ones that I’ve seen on any of these shows. I was wondering what inspired you to come out that day and audition, so I appreciate your sharing that. Just talk a little bit about the process. Before we see you on TV, did you have to audition for like a producer, or anybody off camera, or do they just kind of walk you in, and you do your thing?
Le’Andria: No, they just told you to walk in and give us what you got. So, at that moment, I just gave what I had, or gave what was inside of me at that moment.
Darnell: Talk to me about the moment of winning. I know it was 2010, so there’s been some time, but thousands of people auditioned, so what was going through your mind when you were the last person standing, and they were announcing you as the winner?
Le’Andria: That, no matter what you’re going through, there’s still greatness, you know, for you, and that’s why you have to have faith in yourself and believe in yourself. When others count you out, you have to know who you are, so at that moment, I was just rejoicing that God gave me that opportunity, that He found me faithful enough to receive that and to be in that position, because we’re not perfect. I know I’m not, and God still allowed me to experience greatness, so I just thank Him. That’s why I’m honored, humbled, and praising God that He allowed me that opportunity.
Darnell: And your album, THE AWAKENING OF LE’ANDRIA JOHNSON, came out last September, but that was over a year after you won. I was curious why there was the delay there before the album came out?
Le’Andria: Oh, well, at the moment, the label and, I guess, BET--they had to finalize some things, because the label actually took on a job. There was another person in line to do what they were going to do, and the label took on the job, and so that’s what the delay was. That’s what happened, so it was nothing really serious. It was just that everybody had to get some things in order really fast to make it happen; and then Music World made it happen, so that’s what we’re grateful for.
Darnell: Absolutely. Fans loved you on the show, obviously; you won. A few fans were a little disappointed that the album had so few songs on it. Were you happy with how the first album came out?
Le’Andria: I’m happy, yes. I was just glad to be a part of a winning team and being a part of something that was going to make it and grow. So it was wonderful.
Darnell: You mentioned Music World a couple times already. Can you tell me how that particular deal came about? Everybody knows that that’s Matthew Knowles’ company. Can you talk a little bit about how you got connected with them?
Le’Andria: Well, like I said earlier, they were the label that took upon this project, that agreed with BET, and they got together and that is the label that’s going to be taking on the Sunday Best winners now, so that’s how all that became.
Darnell: Has Mr. Knowles himself offered you any advice on being in the music industry?
Le’Andria: Yes, he talks to all of his artists, a lot of times just to encourage us, just to pull the best out of us and make sure that we give the best and provide the best; then we’ll get the best. He’s definitely keeping us aware of what needs to be done business-wise, definitely.
Darnell: We mentioned that you won a Grammy Award for your debut single, “Jesus.” I want to ask you about the inspiration behind that song, because I understand that’s one that you wrote, right?
Le: Yes, the inspiration behind that song, “Jesus,”--it comes from a deeper place than anything else. It don’t come from just a pad or pencil. It don’t come from a recording or a recording contract; it comes from within the roots that you grew up on. I grew up on calling on Jesus. I grew up on that name; I grew up reading about that man, trying to find out things and hearing things, and seeing that man do marvelous things, not only in my life, but in others' lives, too.
So I’m very familiar with that name and that man. So, at that time, I was able to record it and share it with the world to let them know who he is. And if you don’t know who he is, then you need to find out who he is, because he’s definitely real and he’s definitely alive. So, that’s the inspiration behind that, being able to grow up.
Darnell: You have a brand new EP that came out, of seven additional songs in February. It’s called THE EVOLUTION OF LE'ANDRIA JOHNSON. I understand that the new songs are going to be packaged with the old songs so people can get them all together. Can you explain how that goes?
Le’Andria: Yea, it’s called a deluxe album, and if you didn’t want the old songs, then you can get the seven new songs, THE EVOLUTION OF LE'ANDRIA JOHNSON; you can get that as well. So they are packaging some; that’s if others wanted to get it, as well.
Darnell: Well, you know that you’re speaking with SoulMusic.com and Soul music fans may be a little surprised to see that your new single is written and produced by Raphael Saadiq. How did you get together with him for that?
Le’Andria: Well, “Let it Go” is produced by Raphael Saadiq, but that’s not the new single for THE EVOLUTION OF LE'ANDRIA JOHNSON. The new single for EVOLUTION OF LE'ANDRIA JOHNSON is entitled “It’s Gonna Be Alright,” and that was produced by Stan Brown. But how did I meet him and get to work with him? His sister is actually one of my A&R reps, so she said, “Well, I’ve got a song for you; let me ask my brother,” and that whole kind of thing, and that came about. I met him, he came into the studio and liked what he heard, and I was just honored to meet him, so it was good. It was a good set up.
Darnell: Okay, and it’s a bit of a family affair on your new EP. I understand your brothers Michael and Terrance are featured on it. Can you tell me about the songs that they’re on?
Le’Andria: There’s a song that features Michael Johnson. That’s a song that he and I wrote together. It’s titled “He First Loved Me.” That’s all we did growing up, and that’s all we still do, is record and sing, and so this was the first time that I told him--I said well, one of these days we’re going to be able to do this, and we did it.
And Terrence Johnson wrote on my first album, the song "Struggle Not,” so it’s just good to keep the family in there and appreciate your family, for sitting there those long nights and long hours and working with you and believing in you; so it’s just a good thing to do. So the world can also hear, not from me, but from my siblings, as well; so it’s a good thing.
Darnell: You’ve said in some interviews that your testimony is in your music. We understand that one can’t have a testimony without being tested, so I wanted to ask you, how have you been tested, up to this point in your life, to get to where you are today?
Le’Andria: I’ve been tested in so many different ways, and coming to find out that we’re all tested. It’s just how we handle the tests and when we decide to pass the test. So, at the moment, I didn’t know that you could pass the test as soon as the test is brought to you, but now I’m figuring that out. We all struggle; we all have our struggles, but it’s not for us to give up, and it’s not for us to sink and wither and die in it. It’s for us to just get through it.
When we’re in school, we take a test, and no matter what, how we’re feeling about that test, we have a test, and we’ve got to take it and hopefully we try to aim to pass it, so it’s just like life situations. That’s just where it is: A test is just a test.
Darnell: I understand that. So far the music that you’ve come out with has been a nice balance between traditional Gospel and contemporary Gospel, but we know that Gospel fans and, perhaps, some church folk in general, can be particular about their music and the kind of music that they want their artists to put out. Have you had to address the criticism that maybe some of your sound is a little too worldly, I guess, for lack of a better term, and appeals too much to a secular audience?
Le’Andria: Well, a lot of people have a lot of opinions and that’s just what they are--they’re opinions. But when you get beyond that and look at all the souls that are coming to Christ and the souls that are being changed through the music, period, whether it’s Gospel sounding or R&B sounding, the soul is the main focus and the main count, so that’s just where I am.
I try not to focus on the opinions of people. If I did that, then somebody may miss out on the blessing. Yeah, there are a lot of things being said, but there’s nothing for me to worry about, because they have a right to their opinion, so that’s just how I leave it--as such. Music is going to come out of me regardless.
I may come with a country ballad, so look out for a country ballad. I may do something country, so, you know, hey, this is how we’re going to go. If I feel a little country song, then I’ll just bring it out how I feel it.
Darnell: Hey, Shirley Ceasar, “No Charge.” That was basically a country song.
Le’Andria: Right, right, right.
Darnell: Going back to the question about advice: have you gotten any advice or pointers from anyone on the show like Kirk or Mary Mary or Kim Burrell?
Le’Andria: Definitely, all the time. I’m like their little sister and they make sure the artists stay straight and stay focused. They contact me every now and again just to keep in touch, to make sure that I’m okay. Kirk Franklin, the Mary’s, Kim Burrell--they respond, and I know they’re busy, so what they do is send text messages: “how you doing?” “we love you,” “we miss you,” “can’t want to see you,” stuff like that. So they’re definitely … they’re very supportive and I thank God for that.
Darnell: How is life for you now, after the show? Now you’re a Grammy Award winner, now you have the new music out; how is life for you these days?
Le’Andria: Life for me these days, is still life for me these days. I’m still working, working hard, still being a mother, trying to support, just trying to get some things together now. You know, I’ve been motivated in a couple things. You know, I want to act, and do some movies. I want to open up my own restaurant … just life, just dreams and aspirations. You’ve seen one dream come true, so why not want another dream to come true? You know how it is: you’re motivated to the next step, from one step to the next step. It’s good.
Darnell: If there’s one thing, and only one thing you want people to know about you that perhaps you may feel that they don’t know, what would that be?
Le’Andria: That I will always be transparent, and I will always be real, and that I’m not perfect. I know that’s more than one thing, but I’ve got to say-- I’ve got to put all of that in there. We’re all here on Earth, struggling and striving, but I’m not a judgmental person. That can be the main thing. I’m not a judgmental person. We’re all working to get to the same place, I hope. I hope nobody wants to go to Hell, because I don’t. We’re all trying to make it in, so that’s just where we’re at.
We just have to be helping one another; that’s the only way that we’re going to survive and live in the will of God is that we love one another and help one another and not hate on one another. When somebody is in the fault, let’s not focus on their fault. Let’s focus on how we can get them out of that. We just have to be here for each other.
Darnell: Speaking of the EP being called THE EVOLUTION OF LE’ANDRIA JOHNSON, how have you evolved since this whole process started for you, since your time on the show to now, how have you evolved?
Le’Andria: Well, I’m evolving. I say that. I’m still … I’m just taking it one day at a time, and just experiencing a lot of the good and the bad, so I’m still evolving. I wouldn’t say I have evolved quite yet. I’m still evolving; it’s constant … a day-to-day walk with God.
Darnell: And just remind us again of what the current single is?
Le’Andria: The current single is “It’s Gonna Be Alright.”
Darnell: And is there a video or anything available for it?
Le’Andria: No, there’s not a video out for it yet.
Darnell: Okay. Let everyone know how they can stay in touch with you online. Do you have your own website set up?
Le’Andria: Yes, the website is set up, www.leandriajohnson.com. And then the twitter is @leandriaj, Facebook is Leandria Johnson, and for bookings, MusicWorld.com.
Darnell: Okay, so we got all that information out there. Is there anything you would like to say before we go?
Le’Andria: I thank God for team Le'Andria, my parents, my children, my assistant Robert Hatcher, MusicWorld, Matthew Knowles … just thank God for the ones that love me in spite of, and are pressing toward with me, and for everyone that’s out there, who is listening and reading, remember that the “yes” inside of you, will be the “yes” of somebody else, and that is what you keep in 2012.
Darnell: That’s a great way to end our conversation. Le’Andria Johnson, I do appreciate your time. Anytime that you have anything going on, our doors at SoulMusic.com are open. Feel free to come through and let us know what you’re doing.
Le’Andria: Alright, you can do me this favor. We’re having a conference, a We Declare War Conference, April 12th through the 15th. If you can spread that news here in Texas: my mother, pastor Sharron Johnson, will be doing her conference here in Texas, so that will be going on the month of April, the 12th through the 15th. We Declare War Conference.
Darnell: Okay, is there any place online, in case someone wants to look up more information?
Le’Andria: They can actually go to my Facebook or my Twitter, and they’ll find that information.
Darnell: Okay, there you go. Alright. Well, thank you so much for your time. We do appreciate it.
Le’Andria: Thank you so much.
Darnell: Alright; be blessed.
Le’Andria: Alright. You, too.
About the Writer
Darnell Meyers-Johnson is a New Jersey based music journalist and creator of The Meyers Music Report (www.TheMeyersMusicReport.Tumblr.com). Previously, he served as Entertainment Editor for the now defunct publication Nubian News and as Editorial Coordinator for SoulMusic.com. When not conducting interviews or writing liner notes, Darnell hosts a weekly radio show, Vocal About Jazz, which streams online every Saturday from 12-2pm, EST on JazzOn2.org and iTunes.