Appearing on one of the decade’s hottest TV shows can push even the most stage shy person from anonymity to a surreal level of popularity in a matter of moments.

And that’s exactly what happened to the Sacramento, Calif., native and Nashville, Tenn., resident—now simply known as Mandisa—when a stint on the fifth season of American Idol changed her life forever.

“I was so content,” she says. “I could have done that for the rest of my life and would have been completely happy with that. But I just felt like the Lord was saying this was the time for me to do this. Now I see why.”

Over the past 18 months, Mandisa says she has become increasingly comfortable with the idea of being center stage. That seems to prove true in light of the current media blitz for her autobiography IdolEyes (Tyndale House) which hit stores in May, her debut album True Beauty (Sparrow) which released in July, and a recent a modeling contract.

But while traveling to her American Idol tryout, she simply wanted to leave everything on the table and walk away with no regrets—knowing that she would never have to ask the question, “What if?”

“Honestly, I didn’t have very many expectations,” Mandisa says. “I never expected to make it as far as I did, and I certainly believe that God had bigger dreams for me than I ever had for myself. . . . I know that the Lord is kind of using me as His mouthpiece because I’m so vocal about Him.”

Early on, Mandisa was considered by critics to be one of the strongest vocalists to advance to the final round of 12. But following her performance of Mary Mary’s urban gospel hit “Shackles” and some comments that were misconstrued as anti-gay, the diva quality vocalist was ousted as the ninth place finisher.

Even though she admits she had been sheltered before going to Hollywood, Mandisa says she wasn’t surprised that her outspoken beliefs caused such an uproar that included protesters and online campaigns.

“My faith is the polar opposite of what the world believes,” she says. “But it didn’t make it any easier to go through. People yelling and screaming at me for what I believe was not easy, and it’s not something I would have chosen for myself. But as a result, I came out purer than when I went in. I feel like I could identify more with the Lord. The Bible talks about sharing in the fellowship of His sufferings, and I tasted a very small bit of that with everything that happened to me. I feel closer to Him, and I feel stronger in my faith because it was tested.”

Mandisa weathered the storm and became one of nine finalists to sign record deals.

“I’m someone who loves the Lord, and I love to have a good time,” Mandisa says. “I feel like the Lord loves to have a good time, too. So I guess that’s what my CD is going to be like.”

And Mandisa’s tell-all book is just another step in this young woman’s journey—an important step in which she hopes to identify with the thousands of people who, like her, have struggled with weight and self-image.

“I felt the Lord was saying I needed to do it for me,” Mandisa says. “Like journaling, it’s cathartic to start writing things down. You start to see things in yourself, and you start to deal with emotions that you didn’t even know you had. And I feel like it can help others, too.”

Christian Idols?