"On Thursday night I won this award (for Female Vocalist of the Year). Then the following night we had a show, and it was one of the worst shows on the tour. It was God's way, I thought, of just keeping us all humble."



By Dan MacIntosh for the Music Channel at crosswalk.com

{{Crystal Lewis}}' bubbly voice is coming in loud and clear over the phone. Such a plain statement is not newsworthy; it would never raise even an eyebrow with the folks over at CNN. But newsworthy or not, this minor detail is some of the best news to hit Crystal's camp in days. Just a few weeks previous, Crystal had lost her voice, which then forced the petite singer to cancel a few shows. Such an interruption is the equivalent of, say, a master pianist having his hands removed.

With her exceptional voice back in tact, Crystal continues on with what seems like an endless tour schedule. I caught up with her one morning while she was somewhere in Georgia.

Arguably the best female vocalist making Christian music today, Crystal realizes well that for the Christian, most every event in life--whether big or small--carries with it a message. Even negative circumstances can produce positive life lessons. For example, it didn't take long after she won the Dove award for Best Female Vocalist this past April, for Lewis--while touring with the vocal quartet {{Avalon}}--to be reminded about the utter necessity of humility.

"On Thursday night," she recalls "I won this award, and {{Avalon}} won (an award) for best new artist. Then the following night we had a show, and it was one of the worst shows on the tour. It was God's way, I thought, of just keeping us all humble. 'Ok, you've won these awards. But don't get too far ahead of yourselves; you still have to do the everyday normal gig.'" Crystal may be receiving sessions from Humility 101 of late, but a performance by Crystal can never be characterized simply as any "everyday normal gig."

Crystal sings with power and with soul. She also sings of her faith with real passion. She's been praised for her talents since her teen years, so it must be tempting now and again for Crystal to begin to believe her own press. Maybe this is why ego checks are always a part of God's refining work in the believer's life. Crystal's new album, ==Gold==, was influenced by her understanding of God's workmanship. The title, taken from Job 23:10, says in part "when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold."

Produced once again by her husband, Brian Ray, and Dan Posthuma, ==Gold== is a shining example of why Crystal is one of Christian music's most popular singers. Its songs cover a wide range of territory, including the autobiographical "Dyer Road," the statement of faith in "Lord I Believe," and a song about how chilling life can become without God, called "What about God," that is guaranteed to give you goosebumps.

It's hard to believe that ==Gold== is Crystal's 11th solo album--if you don't count her Spanish version albums. For such a young performer, Crystal has already had three number one singles, including the %%CCM%% and %%CRR%% Song of the Year, "People Get Ready...Jesus is Comin'".

Now that Crystal has reached the top in the Christian marketplace, don't be surprised when you start seeing her music begin to branch out into the secular world. Her recent signing to the {{Kirk Franklin}}'s Gospocentric/Interscope label should add mightily to her chances of successfully crossing over.

"That came about from my involvement with Kirk on his song "Lean on Me," explains Crystal. Behind the scenes at the same GMA convention where Crystal won her award, her people were meeting with his people, and they soon learned that each admired the other's work greatly. Yet, these two respected singers had still never met.

"I think we kind of had a mutual admiration thing going," says Crystal "but other than that, we'd never actually been officially introduced."

Once they were in fact "officially introduced," they got right to work recording Franklin's all-star single, which also featured U2's Bono and R. Kelly.

"It was fantastic," says Crystal of the experience. "He's very charismatic in his personality. He's also very creative, and in the studio he changed things from minute to minute. He didn't necessarily have an accurate game plan to work from when I came in, which I love, because that's how we [Crystal and husband Brian Ray] have always worked."

Franklin, who comes off as hyper-active both in his videos and his live performances, is much the same when working in the studio. Although he likes to jump around a lot, this didn't seem to bother Crystal. "You would maybe think that would be distracting," says Crystal. "But as someone singing in the studio, I found that quite the opposite."

Oddly enough, Franklin's big name version of the song "Lean On Me" has run into some resistance from Christian radio. Apparently, many stations have struggled with presenting a song that prominently features artists who are not familiar entities to the Christian music community.

But since Crystal so loves this song, she has re-recorded it--this time with additional vocals from Franklin and The Family--and it's being serviced to Christian radio. The new version also appears as a bonus track on the repackaged ==Gold== album, which is available through Word Distribution and Interscope.

When Crystal reflects upon her past, she has a few significant memories which stand out in her mind.

"The first one I can remember," she says, "was when I sang a song for Christmas in my kindergarten class. I sang 'Away in a Manger' and it was the first time--other than in my dad's church--that I'd sung in public. I just remember finishing the song, and then walking back to my seat before I'd actually finished the entire song. I guess I was in somewhat of hurry."

Of course, Crystal has grown up to be a masterful performer, one who now never leaves the stage until the last note is sung. But just maybe these elementary school actions were a clue as to what was to come for Crystal. Maybe she was just in a hurry to get into the "real" show business, since she began her recording career at the tender age of 15.

Along the way, she's had the kinds of singing experiences most professional vocalists rarely get a chance to partake in firsthand. While church gave her the perfect forum to perfect her singing craft, it also taught her much about the ministry. This preacher's daughter was able to see the direct connection between talent and ministry.

One such ministry opportunity forms another one of Crystal's most vivid Christmas memories. From a very young age, Crystal and her family trekked to the LA Mission each Christmas to minister to the homeless. Her dad would speak, she would sing and volunteers would serve the food.

"I will never forget watching the volunteers; it was just pouring rain one year," she recalls with a shiver. "The volunteers were holding these big tarps over the tables where homeless people were sitting and eating."

This occasion imprinted onto Crystal's heart an impression of what Christmas really means--one which will probably stay with her for life. "It was just such a beautiful picture of sacrifice. These (homeless) people--whom the world considers worthless--were the center of attention, and yet here are these people giving up their time with their families on the last day before Christmas, so that these people can eat at least a semi-dry meal."



To read the remainder of this Crystal Lewis feature, click here!