Le’Andria Johnson - The Experience
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There are many seasoned praise and worship ministers that have experienced qualified success in serving their local church communities, yet some desire to seek bigger platforms in preaching God’s word through music. Though the reasons may vary (especially securing their financial future), there is still one thing that stands out. Their rise typically leans on their personal testimonials of how God sustained them in the long run and repetitive declarations of being sinners in need of a Savior. Given that, what better place to witness anointed ministers like Le’Andria Johnson than a popular televised musical reality show competition ala Sunday Best? There, the ministerial aspirants are judged and mentored by industry superstars to sharpen their professionalism on all levels while also granted the international platform they desire to spread their message of love and redemption.
Before she auditioned for the third season of Sunday Best, from age 16, Johnson was firmly established in the praise and worship scene. The Orlando, Florida native was driven by song at the age of two. Johnson’s vocal abilities were never in doubt, whether in her father’s church, at talent shows or for a conference sponsored by Pastor Shirley Caesar. Yet, her controversial life circumstances offstage—from single motherhood to her home being foreclosed—understandably weighed on Johnson at times throughout her Sunday Best appearances. In the long run Johnson persevered, winning the grand prize on the BET program, including a national recording contract. Since her win, Johnson has been busy throughout her climb to national ministry stages, including winning her first Grammy for her debut single, “Jesus.” That drive has also carried her in etching her overall ministry and is again credited for her handling of high media pressures and an extremely demanding workload with grace.
Just two years removed from her Sunday Best triumph, Johnson is on her second full-length project, the CD/DVD Deluxe set of The Experience, a performance captured live at St. Stephens Baptist Church in her new hometown of Houston, Texas. Despite occasional pacing issues and a couple of overly lengthy tracks, The Experience is a commendable effort.
In the first half, Johnson focuses more on her transparent side. The rock-flavored, “I’m Living,” is a bold declaration in how Johnson is exclusively living for Christ, no matter what genre she partakes in: “Now I like my jazz/and I like my blues…/But, it don’t mean nothing/ if it can’t carry you through/Only the Word of God for me will do.” “My Story Continues” is a modern R&B ballad about Johnson’s ladder to building her faith in Christ. Flipping the script to the old school, “Complicated,” breaks down Johnson’s matter-of-fact views on love’s ever conflicting attitudes.
Johnson easily transitions from the inspirational to the sanctuary for the remainder of The Experience. “Lord Keep Me by Day” develops into a priceless interaction between the band’s guitarist and Johnson. She does not forsake her background ensemble and gives them their space amongst the spiritual grooves of “I Am Available.” “Joy,” based on the verse Psalms 30:5, is another energy-packed number and is climaxed by Johnson inviting the St. Stephens congregation to join in on the festivities. Reaching back to the classic songs of the church, Johnson presents two medleys; one being the “Hymn Medley” featuring “He Has Done Great Things,” where Johnson is backed by a solitary organ accompaniment and catapults the minimalist approach into the highest degree of praise. However, the medley does start to lose a bit of gusto once the rest of the band chimes in. Johnson’s resounding voice continues lifting the church roof with The Experience’s two closing pieces, “God Will Take Care of You” and “Jesus.”
Despite a few hiccups, Johnson is indubitably in her element throughout The Experience with her strong connections and honest demeanor towards her audience. In the long run, the overall investment on Sunday Best was all the worthwhile and Johnson’s resolute attitude in handling her business is always welcome for gospel music enthusiasts. With The Experience, it looks like Johnson’s finally achieved that national platform that’s been her calling all along. Recommended.
By Peggy Oliver