The opening track to Mandisa’s latest album, “Out of the Dark,” begins with a series of concerned voicemail messages from loved ones.
“Hey, Dis, it’s Laura, just want you to know I’m thinking about you today.” “Hey, Mandisa, this is Dan, just wanted to check in and see how you’re doing.” “Hey, Mandisa, Dave calling. I’ve missed not hearing from you over the last couple weeks, and I hope that you’re all right.”
The re-created messages address the elephant in the room right out of the gate: Where had Mandisa been for four years? The contemporary Christian artist and former “American Idol” contestant went silent after her 2013 album “Overcomer.”
These days, Mandisa is back, and makes no qualms about what she endured during the interim. Mandisa will perform at Winter Jam Tour Spectacular at Reading’s Santander Arena tonight. The show, which only sells tickets at the door, also will feature performances from Newsboys United, Danny Gokey and Ledger.
Mandisa finished in ninth place on season five of “American Idol” in 2006. Judge Simon Cowell made several remarks about her weight during her appearance on the show. She gracefully addressed Cowell and offered her forgiveness.
“Overcomer” was inspired by Mandisa’s friend and backup singer, Kisha Mitchell.
“I remember when she told me she was pregnant,” Mandisa said. “It was the same exact time she told me that she had felt a lump in her breast.”
Mitchell gave birth to a baby boy in June 2013. She died the following year, at the end of the album cycle for “Overcomer.”
Mitchell’s death sent Mandisa into a deep depression. She cut off communication with nearly everyone, including friends and loved ones.
“I just went MIA,” Mandisa said. “I went gone. I ghosted everybody.”
She refers to that time as her “season of darkness.” She struggled to make sense of her depression, especially in relation to her faith.
“I thought I’m the only one and I should be ashamed of myself for feeling this way,” Mandisa says. “And now I'm understanding that so many people do, and the more you talk about it, you’re giving it less power when you bring what you are facing into the light.”
So, she did just that. Mandisa started writing songs for “Out of the Dark” in 2016. As she started addressing her feelings through song, she felt herself being lifted out of that difficult time.
The first song she wrote was “Prove Me Wrong,” in which she talks directly to God about why he didn’t save her friend’s life.
“You could have saved her, you’ve done it before,” Mandisa sings.
“It was that level of honesty,” Mandisa says. “It’s not a song that is nicely tied up with a bow. I was just kind of crying out to God about what I felt, and then the music came after that.”
It was a drastic shift for Mandisa, whose previously released music gave the image of an optimistic cheerleader. In meetings with her label during the early stages of making “Out of the Dark,” Mandisa expressed concerns about how the shift would be received by fans.
She’s been surprised to find how many listeners are relating to her struggle with depression. While writing about mental health has been a means of healing for herself, Mandisa is now finding inspiration in helping others, too. That energy is never more palpable than live in concert.
“It feels vulnerable in a sense, but it also feels so joyful to be able to look back at where I was and to be able to share it, knowing that God can use it to help bring somebody out of the dark,” Mandisa says.
Mandisa is starting to work on new music with co-writers for her next record, which she plans to be a worship album.
“Because of what I faced in the dark, I learned the power of worship music,” Mandisa says.
With six studio albums already to her name, there’s still a few things Mandisa would like to accomplish, including a duet with a personal idol.
“I’ve always wanted to do a song with Natalie Grant. … She’s my hero,” Mandisa says.