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Interview with Melinda Watts

Just as Rome was not built in a day, neither was the career of one of Gospel's brightest new faces, Melinda Watts. The 2008 Gospel Dream winner has travelled a compelling and challenging road leading to her national release titled People Get Ready. The worship leader spent some time with GOSPELflava.com to share her story and her heart. The "Dream" for Watts began long before her success on the Gospel Music Channel's reality series.

"I started singing at the age of six in my church choir back in New Jersey," shares Watts.

Melinda Watts "I was always involved in the community and in choirs as well. I basically followed the path my parents laid out for me in going to school and college. After graduation, I moved to California and did praise & worship there. That's where I got married, had my daughter, and auditioned for Gospel Dream."

Watts got her first taste of recording with an independent CD titled Try Again, released in 2005.

"That was a lot of fun," says Watts. "I picked songs that I had written and recorded the album in my friend's basement over the span of five or six years. The songs were written while in high school and in college and I just took them and burned them on a CD. It wasn't really produced, mixed or mastered so to speak. They were songs that I just really believed in and other people liked."

However, there was more for Watts to do and the opportunity to audition for Gospel Dream became an option.

"My sister motivated me to audition for Gospel Dream. I figured that I was OK. I'm a teacher, wife, and mother. I love working with people but there was a void. I felt like I wasn't really fulfilling the purpose that God had for me. So that inspired me to do Gospel Dream."

"The auditions were crazy," continues Watts. "There were thousands of singers in L.A. during the auditions and they were such amazing singers. Honestly, I didn't think I would be selected. It was amazing to see the people and the spirit that was there. The process went really well. I actually got to sing songs in my audition that were unexpected. I love a lot of CCM music and they expected me to sing traditional gospel, which I didn't do during my audition. That may have been something that made me stand out. Then, throughout the show, I saw transition in my personal life. So many things were changing during the taping of the show, which caused me to lean on God even more so than just for the competition. It was much more than that for me."

Reality TV has changed the way the world views entertainment. The same holds true within the record business, as shows like Gospel Dream have changed the climate for aspiring artists.

"You get to be in front of a lot of people at one time, over the course of several weeks," shares Watts. "Instantly, people know who you are. Normally, it would take a lot of grass roots marketing to break you into the business. These shows give people opportunity to see the process. Given the climate of the industry, I think we need shows like this. People aren't buying records the way they used to. Record companies don't have the money to develop artists the way they used to. I think that's why the shows are looking for people that are almost already developed. I think these shows match the times and technology that we're living in. Now people can download one song off of the record if they desire."

As one can imagine, winning the Gospel Dream competition would be life-changing for most. The same holds true for Watts.

"For me, it's still kind of weird," admits Watts. "I'm still in awe of it all from winning Gospel Dream. I've been so focused on the day-to-day activities that I haven't had time to say 'People are really saying my name', you know? I'm grateful that God is doing this. For me, I can't feel it. His grace is what's letting me do it. I feel the pressure of my album being out and hoping that people really like it."

"The adjustment has really been with my schedule," continues the 2008 Gospel Dream winner. "People know my name and that's great but man, there's a lot of stuff that has to be done to back up what's going on. I have a lot of travelling and I'm a very family oriented person. My biggest adjustment has been discovering the need to share myself with other people beyond my family."

With increased exposure, Watts has discovered two sides to the proverbial coin of stardom and increased recognition.

People Get Ready
CD The partnerships continue as the 2008 Gospel Dream judge J. Moss teams with Watts on The Tommies' standard "Available To You". The combination of Mossí vocal acrobatics and Watts gentle and simplistic approach makes for an...

Read full album review.

"My eyes are opened to how powerful music ministry is," acknowledges Watts. "I realize that you really are touching people's lives when they listen to your music. People call in to radio stations and are desperate for an answer. This whole process has really changed my outlook on ministry. The challenge though is the balance between being the psalmist and the artist. I don't think that they are two different people. As seriously as I take my role and call as a psalmist, I have to consider all of the things that artists do. Does the role of an artist match what I do as a psalmist? I'm really passionate about what God has called me to do. Sometimes artists have to do what artists have to do. I didn't have to do that before. I could just lay before God, get up on Sunday morning, lead praise and worship, and sing the sermonic solo and be done with it. There was no worry about pushing a single or anything like that. But I thank God because He's given me wisdom on how to be in the role of an artist and function as a psalmist."

As a psalmist, Watts finds great relevance and importance in having a connection with a local church.

"We all need to be accountable," shares Watts. "When God places you in a ministry, He gives the man or woman of God the foresight for your life and for your ministry. Being accountable to them is really important because you can then gage where you really are. They can help you spiritually. Serving keeps you grounded. I find it important to serve whenever I am in my home church. Whether it's in the kitchen or the community center, serving is what I love to do. It keeps me from being about just what I have to get done. I rarely do any type of promoting for the album at my home church. When I'm home, I'm just a servant."

As you could imagine, life changes after winning such a major event. Watts chronicles a few of the current differences in her life.

"I am more of a free person these days," shares Watts. "I think God allowed me to go through Gospel Dream and to experience this blessing because there was another level of freedom that He wanted me to have in my worship. I realize that it's already been written for me. I'm just walking it out so I don't have the fears that I used to have about being an artist. I love the everyday demands of being an artist. It's making me mature faster and making me more accountable to myself. It's making me less slothful. I'm learning a LOT of character building things. I'm more disciplined now than ever before."

That discipline was quickly put to the test during the process of recording her new album.

"I actually recorded the record over the course of three weeks with four different producers in four difference cities," reveals Watts. "My management team and the record label really wanted the album to be ready for this year's season of Gospel Dream so everything was done really quickly. I was able to write a lot of the songs. I really had to just be responsible. After Gospel Dream, my first show was on the Women of Faith tour in front of 18,000 people. The Lord was reminding me that where much was given, much was required and He reminded me that I could handle it. However, I didn't know that I could. I had to immediately seek God for wisdom and balance for my family. That process of recording happened so fast but I knew it was God's will and purpose for my life. I could feel the peace and favor of God for this season. It was hard work but it was such a blessing."

One of the guest artists on the new effort is J. Moss, who happens to be one of the judges during the 2008 Gospel Dream season.

"I never knew that I'd have the chance to work with him," shares Watts. "It was amazing. When we went into the studio together, we reflected on the show and he instantly helped me to calm down. I was so nervous because I was singing with him!! My friend Freddy Washington told me to just sing honest. I sang honest and J loved the way I sung. You know that J. Moss can kill a song. I'm very simple and the two of us together was a great blend. He coached and encouraged me. I still can't believe that we worked together."

A perusal of the album will see Watts reaching back into the archives to sing classics such as "Available to You" from the Thompson Community Singers and "Faith" from Vanessa Bell Armstrong. Watts level of musical diversity made the song selection process interesting for the Sacramento-based psalmist.

"I wanted to present what was on my heart relative to how I feel about music," says Watts. "Sometimes, people are forced to choose. You either have to be this or you have to be that. When I was praying about my record deal, I wanted to work with people who understood that I'm not in a position to choose. I have to be about what God wants me to be about."

"I was blessed to have the opportunity to choose a lot of my music and those songs are really staples in my life," continues Watts. "I noticed that those songs had not been redone. So either they weren't covered because no one wanted to touch them or people were not wanting to reach back. However, this generation doesn't remember The Tommies or Vanessa Bell Armstrong. So I wanted to do it my way but still keep it classic so that I didn't damage the songs. I wanted to respect the songs but put my arrangement and twist on them. 'There's also 'There Will Come A Day', a country song from Faith Hill and 'People Get Ready' from Crystal Lewis. I love country and CCM music and wanted to showcase that side of me as well. So it's really a jumbalaya of sorts. I know that you have to have continuity in your album. I wanted to show that I do have these different influences but I know who I am at the same time."

Already, Watts is off to an impressive start to her career, recently releasing her first concept video.

"The song 'So Good' was chosen as the single and the label told me we'd do a video," says Watts. "I know that my team has good taste and they know what they want to see happen, so I just flowed with it. That was the turning point for me when I knew that I could be an artist. I had NEVER been in front of a camera like that. I'd never done a music video before. I said, 'God, please give me the grace and wisdom to do this.' I knew that I have to look like I know what I'm doing in order for the video not to be cheesy. I knew that if God didn't help me, it would all be for naught. He just gave me the understanding of what it was about. It wasn't about being deep, it was about having fun and conveying to the audience that He's been good for me. I wouldn't have been ready for that right after Gospel Dream. It had to be now."

As all songs are birthed through adversity, "So Good" chronicles a personal experience for the proud wife and mother.

"While in college, the doctors told me that I wouldn't be able to have children," shares Watts. "That devastated me. Then I got married and had to tell my husband that I just believed that one day, having children would happen. When I found out that I was pregnant, that's when I wrote the song. Immediately after I found out, I worshipped and cried and God gave me that song. I literally was running around my house. I was so excited because I heard that it would never happen. That's why in the song, I say 'I just might even run around. I leap for joy, I lift my voice because He's been so good to me.' It was like Hannah, you know?"

As her album title appositely states, People Get Ready for one of the industry's brightest faces and purest hearts, Melinda Watts.



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interview by Gerard Bonner




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