Season 5 American Idol alum Mandisa is walking lighter these days.

Since she began her weight-loss journey last August, she's dropped an impressive 75 pounds—and is still going, with hopes of losing more than 100. While she's worked long and hard on this physical transformation (including seriously cutting back on her guilty pleasures: McDonald's french fries, Wendy's Classic Double with cheese and no onions, and Dairy Queen Heath Blizzards), it's the change you can't see that prompted her to title her new album Freedom.

"I don't just have a weight problem," Mandisa explains. "I have a food addiction. So the emotional and spiritual elements have been the most difficult part of this journey by far."

Walking this journey has meant working through many childhood issues: her parents' divorce when she was two, her father's abandonment when she was ten (he's now back in her life), childhood molestation, and a rape when she was sixteen. "Somewhere along the line, I picked up the message that my body being desirable wasn't a good thing. So I started padding and shielding myself with a lot of weight."

Because there's so much tied up in her lifelong struggle with her weight, Mandisa found it especially hurtful and humiliating when American Idol judge Simon Cowell mentioned her large size during the show in 2006.

A judge and a forgiver

For anyone who missed the infamous American Idol incident, here's a recap: During her audition, Mandisa wowed the judges with her vocal prowess on the song "Fallin'." Judges Simon, Randy, and Paula quickly gave her the green light to advance to the next round in Hollywood. While Mandisa celebrated with her friends and family in the hallway immediately afterward, Simon made a snarky comment about Mandisa's size: "Do we have a bigger stage this year?" (Cowell's comments are included here.)

Mandisa didn't hear the comment until it aired a couple months later. On national television. To an audience of 30 million viewers. Including the 40 friends and family members Mandisa had gathered with her in her living room to watch.

"I was devastated. It was my worst nightmare come true," says Mandisa. "My worst fear wasn't that I wouldn't make it onto the show, it's that I would be humiliated and that Simon would make comments about my weight."

The friends and family with Mandisa quickly gathered around her and started praying—for her hurting heart, for Simon's heart, for Mandisa's ability to forgive Simon. "It was during that prayer that the Lord showed me this was about so much more than my hurt feelings. This was an opportunity for God to show himself."

So when Mandisa appeared before the three judges soon after to find out if she'd made it to the semifinals, she told Cowell, "What I want to say to you is that, yes, you hurt me and I cried and it was painful. It really was. But I want you to know that I've forgiven you and that you don't need someone to apologize in order to forgive somebody. I figure that if Jesus could die so that all of my wrongs could be forgiven, I can certainly extend that same grace to you." Cowell, visibly moved, said he was humbled, apologized, and the two hugged it out.

Mandisa went on to wow the judges and fans for weeks with her powerhouse vocals and megawatt smile. Though her eventual elemination from the competition devastated her, it certainly didn't seem to slow her down. Her debut album, True Beauty, was nominated for a Grammy and two Dove Awards in 2007. That year she also wrote a book, IdolEyes: My New Perspective on Faith, Fat, and Fame. Last year she released a critically acclaimed Christmas album, It's Christmas. And in the past year alone, she's appeared on Live with Regis & Kelly, Today, CBS Early Show, Fox & Friends, and Extra.