The Dream Returns
Last season's winner Melinda Watts
By Andy Argyrakis, senior music editor, GospelMusicChannel.com
With the 2009 Gospel Dream season premiering June 24, fans of the program will be reveling in brand-new episodes as well as classic clips from the past. As excitement about who'll be crowned this year's winner begins to boil, fans' interest in previous contestants hasn't gone by the wayside. A national television audience, plus a CD and DVD compilation of top performances, certainly hasn't hurt. In keeping with the trend, we've tracked down three of the program's most popular contestants from previous years. I'm happy to report they're all fledging forward with their musical careers, even outside of the reality show spotlight.
Smith's first season flashback
In the very first season of Gospel Dream in 2005, judges Kelly Price, Max Siegel and yours truly whittled through literally thousands of contestants all across America to find the one who earned a record deal. Though it was a painstaking process that found singers of all ages and genres stepping up to the plate, Michigan native Brian Smith rose to the top, subsequently releasing his major label debut disc Love Letter in 2007 and extending his reach well beyond just the small circle you might expect.
"My music reached places it never would have otherwise and it stretched me culturally," he says of the experience. "It's easy to isolate yourself, but this pushed me. It also helped me to become a better communicator. It was a learning experience overall. Some good, some bad, but God used every bit of it to add pieces of my life puzzle, and for that I'm grateful."
Even though it's been a few years, Smith is still touch with many of the show's staff members and his fellow contestants. In addition to balancing his musical endeavors with a career as Christian music program director for WNFA/WNFR radio, he plans to focus on ministry as well.
"I'm starting a new Saturday outreach for young adults and young families that will combine great music, messages and audio visual material to reach people in a creative and relevant way," shares Brian. "It's called 'Axis' and will kick off in the fall."
Smith also reveals he'll be going back to school to become a pastor.
"I never thought I would [do] that, but my burden for the young adult generation is huge, and I believe more training is necessary so I will become even more effective. It's amazing how God uses one thing to lead us to another! I'm glad He knows the plan, because without Him, I'd be lost!"
Greenlee's musical growth
First-season followers will also recall Missouri's Gary Greenlee scoring a semi-finalist slot after auditioning in several cities. And while he didn't win the competition, he quickly became a fan favorite, so much so that he was voted by the audience to appear again in 2006. Though he's a few years removed from traveling with the Gospel Dream tour, the memories are still a regular recurrence, and so is the feedback he hears from fans.
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"I remember meeting other outstanding, talented Christians and making new friends, plus an awesome memory was being a part of the nationally released Gospel Dream compilation CD and DVD working with Aaron Lindsey, Danny Duncan and Alvin Williams," Greenlee muses. "Those guys are outstanding, amazing and awesome all in one! Seeing that CD in stores and being on TV was really neat, and I still have people that call me and say, 'I saw you on the Gospel Music Channel last night' after seeing a Gospel Dream re-run."
The powerhouse vocalist's musical ambitions continue via the Gary Greenlee Project, a group who recently released a self-titled EP and regularly perform at various concerts, youth rallies and worship settings around St. Louis. Greenlee's also the praise & worship /youth pastor at First Assembly of God in Potosi, Mo., with a goal to become senior pastor.
"The band and I are writing more music with a focus on praise and worship and that's where my heart is right now," he adds. "But I have to thank my wife Kim and my two children, Lillian and Garrett, for being so amazing and wonderful. They back me in everything I do, and most of all, pray with and for me. I couldn't do what God's called me to do without their support, and I love them with everything that is within me."
Watts' debut disc on the way
Last season's viewers are no doubt familiar with grand prize winner Melinda Watts, who not only has an impressive set of pipes, but an inspiring story to match. The former high school English teacher always encouraged her students to follow their dreams, and while she loved getting to pour into young people's lives in the classroom, she admittedly felt the tug towards a musical calling.
"I was definitely excited, but also so humbled and I just felt an immense amount of God's grace in my life," she says of the moment her name was called for the top spot. "Prior to that, I was coming through one of the toughest storms in my life where my husband and I were going through a change in ministries and we didn't understand how God was turning the pages in my life. I let my principal know that if I won, I would not come back and teach, and I had to really step out in faith. But I did, and I knew something would come of it."
In addition to the title, Watts is readying her national debut disc People Get Ready, which hits streets July 28 featuring production from Aaron Lindsey (Marvin Sapp, Israel Houghton), PAJAM (Patti LaBelle, Hezekiah Walker), Bernie Herms (Natalie Grant) and newcomer Freddie Washington. The project is poised to blend a sea of diverse influences ranging from soaring vocal pop to smooth soul to old-school gospel.
"I would say you'll hear some Yolanda Adams, CeCe Winans and maybe even some Natalie Grant," she suggests. "I redid Crystal Lewis 'People Get Ready' and also Faith Hill's 'There Will Come a Day,' which shows some other influences on the project. But there's continuity in the vocals and it's not all over the place. It's more of a combination of my tastes that leads to a lot of variety."
About the Writer
Andy Argyrakis is a Chicago-based entertainment writer/photographer who appears in the Chicago Tribune, Illinois Entertainer, Daily Journal, Concert Livewire, Hear/Say Magazine and Image Chicago (to name few). His record label writing credits include Warner Brothers, Atlantic, Curb, EMI and Universal, with additional photo credits for Fuse TV, Live Nation, Nikon, Pollstar, Celebrity Access, Paste Magazine, MTV.com and Vibe.com. He's also the author/narrator of "Access Matthews" (an audio CD tracing the career of Dave Matthews Band) and spends considerable time on tour, including outings with Arlo Guthrie, The Guess Who, Madina Lake (on Linkin Park's Projekt Revolution) and Gospel Music Channel's very own "Gospel Dream" (where he served as season one judge).
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