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A Night to Remember
Jan. 17, 2006, marked the premiere of the fifth season of American Idol … which included my first audition. I was jazzed because I remembered how impressed the judges had been when we taped it. Now I could finally break my silence and let the world eavesdrop on my experience.

I was watching at an American Idol party hosted by my friends Chance and Jennifer. Thanks to digital time-shifting, we replayed funny moments and paused the action so that I could share behind-the-scenes stories about certain contestants. My friends were just as fascinated by this adventure as I was. I kept glancing at the clock, wondering when they were going to show my audition. I barely noticed when the phone rang. Chance answered it and signaled for my attention.

Everyone remained glued to the set as Chance pulled me aside and drew a deep breath. "That was Kevin on the phone," he said. "They're watching the show in real time. You just sang. After you left the room, Simon said something rude about your weight." I stood stock-still. Tears stung my eyes and a sob stuck in my throat. I took a deep breath, thanked Chance for the warning and rejoined the others in the family room, pressing my lips together and trying to keep my chin from quivering.

After my interview with Ryan Seacrest, the camera shifted to me singing "Fallin'" Paula, Randy and Simon said nice things and counted down together as they sent me through to the Hollywood round. The camera zoomed in on my beaming face, then showed me leaving the room in a joyous conniption fit.

Then, before a national television audience, Simon looked over at Paula and asked, "Are we going to get a bigger stage this year?" Paula slapped him playfully and said I reminded her of Frenchie Davis, a former contestant. Simon grinned cheekily and said, "She's more like France."

I swallowed hard and tried to smile. I'd gone from my life's highest moment to one of its lowest, and had to do it under the watchful eyes of my closest friends who saw my hurt and tried to encourage me. They even prayed with me that I'd be able to forgive Simon and that somehow Jesus would be glorified.

Grace Grabs the Spotlight
I echoed that prayer in the days to come, drawing strength from Ephesians 3:8-13. I began to realize that my trial with Simon—which paled in comparison to the trials the Apostle Paul endured—might have some higher purpose. God knew that the world would be watching and waiting for my reaction. It came a week later when the 44 remaining contestants anxiously walked "the green mile" to be whittled to 24 during face-to-face encounters with the judges. I entered the room and noticed that the hot seat was unbelievably small.

"Well Simon," I called, continuing to stroll forward, "you didn't need a bigger stage, but you could have gotten me a bigger chair." Randy laughed. Paula smiled. Having broken the ice, I sat down and looked Simon square in the eye. "Simon, a lot of people want me to say a lot of things to you right now. But this is what I want to say—I want you to know that you hurt me. I cried, and it was very emotional for me. But the good thing about forgiveness is that you don't need someone to apologize in order to forgive them. So Simon, I want you to know I have forgiven you, because if Jesus could forgive me for all the things I've done wrong, I can certainly extend the same grace to you."

Simon Says …
Simon's smug grin disappeared. He uncrossed his arms and hung his head. "Well, I feel about this big," he said, holding two fingers an inch apart. "Mandisa, I'm humbled. Come here and give me a kiss." Relieved, I stood to give him a hug and he continued saying something about me catching him off guard. I knew it was not me who caught him by surprise, but Jesus. Simon hadn't expected to encounter a Jesus example on the hot seat.

As I lived and worked in front of the American Idol cameras, I did so with the knowledge that I was representing far more than myself. I was representing my family, my friends and my Lord. I hope my story will help young people have a similar perspective and be able to take away good things from painful experiences. Because as hurtful as they were, Simon's comments became the impetus I needed to kick-start my plan to live a healthier lifestyle and finally get my eating under control.

This article was adapted with permission from Mandisa's book IDOLeyes, co-authored by Angela Hunt and released by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Published June 2007