"In this industry you come out with a lot of disappointments. God showed me my success doesn't depend on my singing thing."


by Jennifer Root Wilger

Eddie needed a break.

Traveling with his music group, Eddie Williams and Company, always tired him out. Since his family had come along for this particular road trip, Eddie decided to have some fun. Calling his little daughter, Kelli, up to the stage, he handed her the microphone and set her loose. Unknown to Eddie, he'd just handed Kelli her career.

Little Kelli, now grown and an accomplished ccm artist, hasn't passed up a chance at the microphone since. With a vocal ability reminiscent of Whitney Houston or {{Ce Ce Winans}} (or both!), she doesn't need to. Her latest album, ==In The Myx== (Myrrh Black Gospel) is testimony to that.

Filled with an unforgettable blend of R&B and gospel, and fronted by Kelli's unstoppable voice, this album has drawn rave reviews from fans and critics alike. Of course, that's no surprise. The woman they once called the "Little Girl with a Big Voice" has been turning heads her whole life.

"When I was six years old, my cousins and I formed a little group," laughs Kelli. "We had a little choreography and everything." She pauses, then remembers even further back, adding "But even before that my first solo was in church. I stood beside the piano on a chair (or something) and I sang an old {{Larnelle Harris}} song called 'Part the Waters.' My attention span wasn't that long, so my parents let me learn the first verse and sing it twice!"

By junior high, Kelli had a fan base of several long-suffering friends who delighted in watching the budding vocalist ham it up-karaoke style-to her favorite hits. With a fit of giggles, she recalls, "When I was 11 or 12, I'd watch music videos every weekend - the same ones all the time! I'd dress up in this outfit and watch {{Tramaine Hawkins}}. I had a dress that looked like her dress, and lots of lip gloss and high heels. I would make my friends watch me while I imitated what Tramaine was doing in the video. I remember my Dad saying, 'Are you tired of singing yet?' I guess I just wanted an audience."

After winning three consecutive competitions on Star Search a few years later, an audience was easy to find. In fact, before Kelli had reached her 20th birthday, she'd already released two albums, shared the stage with gospel heavyweights like {{Take 6}} and {{Larnelle Harris}}, and toured with {{Ce Ce Winans}} on the sold-out ==Alone in His Presence== Tour.

Take This Show on the Road!

However, even with {{CeCe Winans}} as your tour-mate, life on the road can still be hazardous when you're a young, single, black female. There's a constant possibility of things like violent crime. And sexual harassment. Theft. Transportation breakdown. Price gouging. Seedy hotels. Racism. And, of course, submarine sandwiches. Don't believe it? Just ask Kelli. Her story goes something like this...

After spending weeks in rehearsal for the tour with CeCe, Kelli just wanted everything to start of well. She put in long hours preparing, often working until midnight each night. Day after day, night after night, the opportunity of her lifetime grew nearer. Finally, opening night came... And went. Without Kelli.

"The tour had a very dramatic beginning," she explains. "The day of the first concert I ate a sub sandwich for lunch. It looked and tasted fine at the time, but by 10:00 that night I was in the hospital emergency room! I had really bad food poisoning." So much for first impressions!

"I spent the first two nights of the tour sitting in bed hurting," Kelli groans. "But it was good that I was there because the food poisoning was really serious." Still, not even moldy mayo can keep a woman like Kelli down for long. By the third night of the tour, she was back on stage, back to her normal routine of singing out heartfelt praises to her Lord.

Sub sandwiches notwithstanding, one special part of the tour for Kelli was the opportunity to be mentored by CeCe. "CeCe is very inspirational," says Williams, "and she definitely believes in what she's singing. I couldn't have asked for a better opportunity for my first tour than touring with CeCe."

Over the course of their nine-month tour, these two ladies became a modern-day, female version of Paul and Timothy. "CeCe is kind of like a big sister to me," says Kelli. "We grew closer being on the road." Through Winans' example, Kelli learned that things don't always go perfectly, "even when you're CeCe Winans."

The solid example of the elder singer was a great encouragement for the younger vocalist just learning to live life out on her own. Winans encouraged Kelli to lean on the Lord no matter what-a lesson she says she's definitely taken to heart. "In this industry you come out with a lot of disappointments," says Kelli. "God showed me my success doesn't depend on my singing thing. I don't need a bunch of awards," she continues. "Knowing I'm doing what I'm destined to do is better than album sales or awards."

The Family Factor

Another major factor in Kelli's life has been the support and encouragement of her family. Though many singles can drift away from family relationships as they get older, Kelli can't wait to go home and see mom, dad, siblings and nieces. It also helps that her family stays involved in Kelli's career as well.

"My mother makes sure the business stuff is taken care of," Kelli explains. "And my Dad is great. He runs around like a chicken!" Nowadays, however, it's Kelli's father who is tagging along on his daughter's musical outings. That can sometimes lead to some interesting collaborations. Take for example, the upbeat R&B tune "Ain't No Joy" from Kelli's album, ==I Get Lifted==.

It seems that not long ago, dad and daughter were passing time on an airplane flight. "We were going to a youth convention," Kelli says, "and I just started singing the first line, 'Ain't no joy like Jesus joy.' Dad said, 'That's cute, Kell.' Then we just started going back and forth line by line. We wrote the whole song that way."

Another important "collaboration" in Kelli's life comes in the form of her two nieces, ages seven and two. "It's the best thing being around them!" Kelli says of these girls. "I just took my seven-year-old niece with me on the road...She was so excited about having her own bed on the bus." Kelli has enjoyed watching her nieces grow up. "It's really great now that they're older and can talk about real things like school and stuff," she says.

And just what does Auntie Kelli find to do with her two young charges? "Everything!" she says with a smile. "We like to listen to music. We watch Psalty videos, we go ice skating. And their favorite thing right now is eating Popsicles."

Even with her busy touring and performing schedule, Kelli always finds time for the two little girls who are so important to her-and she recommends spending time with kids as a great pastime for other singles as well. "It's a lot of fun, and also a lot of responsibility. It's great for the kids to be with someone who really loves Jesus."

The Faith Factor

Kelli definitely fits that bill. She's been a Christian for most of her life, although she confesses that it's not always easy. "I grew up going to church every week," she relates. "I'm so glad my parents did that."

She continues, "But just because you're at church doesn't mean you know God. You can just know of Him. God knows every hair on our head. God wants to be a part of our lives, to have a relationship with us. I never understood that growing up. I was real religious, then I faded away into struggles."

Kelli describes the struggles she went through this way: "I struggled not to be on the fence, not to give in to temptation." Like other young adults, she admits she still struggles with "being holy and trying to live a holy life in relationships and dealing with peer pressure."

Living a holy life is never easy, but Kelli knows she's not alone in her quest for holiness-she has help from above. "I realized two or three years ago that I really need Jesus," she states emphatically.

Her advice for herself and others, then, is to build identity on Christ, to rely on "God-confidence" rather than self-confidence for help to overcome temptation. "If you don't know who you are in Christ, you settle for what someone else wants you to be," Kelli explains. "Deep down we all really just want what's best for ourselves, and God knows what's best for us."

When Kelli's not doing her "singing thing" she leads a fairly normal life. Besides spending time with her nieces, she enjoys renting movies, and loves to go ice and roller skating. She describes her room as "full of stuff-magazines, scraps of things I've written, puzzles, candles, and, of course, CD's galore." She does go out on dates, but shyly refuses to comment on her worst date, saying only, "I don't want to tell on anybody!"

Kelli's concern for her friends and family (and even past dates) is a testament to her personal and spiritual maturity. She's happy with how far she's come, and humble, yet optimistic about her future. "Once you choose to follow God, the enemy is on you even more tough," Williams admits. "I don't know everything God has planned for me, but I know the enemy's not very happy!"

Not very happy, indeed, for Kelli's gospel-flavored, R&B-style praises to God will continue to ring out loud and strong. An "I Get Lifted" tour is in the works, although Kelli's record company hasn't yet told her who'll she'll be touring with. ("Maybe they don't want to burst my bubble after touring with CeCe," she jokes.)

As the tour shapes up, {{Kelli Williams}} hopes that audiences will "get lifted" as they listen to her music. "More than anything I want [people] to know and understand who God is," she says in closing. "There are different concepts of who God is. Some people think He's just waiting for us to mess up, or He's just going to take people in when we die. I want people to know God is love, because that's what will matter in the end-whether you loved Him and knew how much He loved you."

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The Quotable Kelli Williams

On What God Desires: "I think God is looking for soldiers...He's looking for people who will honor Him with a broken spirit."

On Touring with CeCe Winans: "The first night I actually performed, it didn't 'sink in' until after the show-'OK! I just sang with CeCe!'"

On Other CCM Artists: "Recently, {{Crystal Lewis}} has inspired me. She has a 'go-get-'em' attitude. No fear, just do it. I've gleaned that from her."

On Star Search: "It was a lot of fun. I met a lot of different people. More than anything, I learned to keep my concentration and focus with lots going on around me. I guess it proved what I was capable of-it was kind of a brutal situation! I beat one girl and she was crying. I felt bad that I beat her, then I was crying and sobbing and saying 'Sorry I beat you.' I didn't know it would be that traumatic!"

On Life On the Road: "I'm always meeting new people in new places. On the road there's about 80 percent more drama than when you're at home-both good and bad. You grow a lot more on the road."

On the Ministry Behind the Music: "I remember being in San Francisco. I had just started doing full concerts. I'd pray before a concert and God would bring the results. Seeing all the young people come to the altar call, and crying with them, I had to let go and let Jesus do it."