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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

True Beauty

  • reviewed by Andree Farias Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2007 1 Jul
True Beauty
Sounds like … urban pop intermingled with adult contemporary, like Natalie Grant or Avalon's Janna Long crossed with CeCe Winans and Whitney Houston.At a glance … predictable adult-contemporary sentiment and some so-so song choices detract from what could have been a strong urban pop debut from the former American Idol finalist.Track Listing Only the World
True Beauty
God Speaking
Voice of a Savior
Love Somebody (feat. tobyMac)
Steal My Joy
Oh, My Lord (feat. the Fisk Jubilee Singers)
Only You
He Will Come

Curious that Mandisa Hundley was among the first castaways from the 2006 finals of American Idol, yet she's one of the last runner-ups to release her album. It wasn't sub-par singing that sent the powerhouse vocalist home early, but unusual song choices (and a misunderstanding among some of the show's fans). Though she dazzled whenever she stuck to soul, urban, and pop, she struggled whenever the night's theme drew her out of her comfort zone. Mandisa's long-awaited debut True Beauty resembles her Idol run in the same way.

EMI pulled all the stops to make the disc an event, hiring Christian music's hottest producers (Brown Bannister, Double Dutch, Christopher Stevens), songwriters (Cindy Morgan, Matthew West, Sam Mizell), and session players. The results show. By Christian pop standards, True Beauty sparkles, especially when Mandisa is in her urban-pop turf, like the irresistible title track, the sassy "Only You," and the "I'm Every Woman" knockoff "Love Somebody" (featuring tobyMac). Especially noteworthy is Mandisa's rendition of Mary Mary's "Shackles"—judges panned her cover on Idol, but this version of the hit rivals the original by infusing '70s-flavored R&B with horns.

Elsewhere, Mandisa seems out of her element. Catchy as it may be, "Only the World" sounds more like an Avalon leftover than a soul sister's smash. The same is true of "Voice of a Savior," "Unrestrained," and "Steal My Joy"—all middling, run-of-the-mill AC that fails to take off. And while "Oh, My Lord" (with the Fisk Jubilee Singers) is intended as an homage, it ends up sounding like a messy, quasi spiritual that's out of place here.

The vocalist redeems herself with the heavenly "God Speaking," a stirring and soaring power ballad, but the album as a whole never quite seems to gel. Just as she deserved to go further in the Idol finals, a voice like Mandisa's deserves stronger material, or at least a musical identity that matches her soulfulness.

© Andree Farias, subject to licensing agreement with Christianity Today International. All rights reserved. Click for reprint information.