Photos by Kathryn Darden for ChristianActivities.com
This year at the Doves Awards (or as we call them now the GMA Music Awards) four smiling new faces were trotted out to meet the press – winners of various recent “reality TV” competitions. By winners I don’t mean they necessariy took the top honors, but as anyone know who watches these shows, when you make it into the top few slots, you are already a winner. Since these stars of “reality TV” made such a splash at the Doves, I thought it would be appropriate to take a closer look at them.
Kristy Starling – “Today’s Superstar,” NBC News’ morning show competition
22-year-old Oklahoma City native Kristy Starling found herself singing before an audience of millions on the country’s number one morning news show. Kristy’s life has been transformed over night: one day she’s a music student in college, the next she’s in New York City performing live before millions on NBC’s Today show. Fast forward one month and Kristy is in Malibu, California, recording with Grammy-winning producer David Foster and beginning work on her debut album.
The youngest of two in a close-knit, middle class family, Kristy was raised surrounded by music. Kristy’s earliest performances were as a young child, singing in church and at school musicals. Recognizing the youngster’s talent, family members and teachers pushed her to develop her vocal skills. But somewhere between childhood and adolescence, Kristy developed something else: a paralyzing stage fright. Still, her family, friends and teachers urged her to sing.
As Kristy began performing in the Fine Arts competitions, she started winning. By high school she had won the state competition, finishing ahead of hundreds of fellow female vocalists, and finished second in the national competition two years running.
Married to Adam in Fall of 2002, finishing her senior credits, Kristy planned to find work leading a church music program. Then Adam’s mother heard about another national singing competition — “Today’s Superstar,” NBC News’ morning show competition complete with live vocal performances and audience voting via the Internet. Once again urged by family and friends to compete, Kristy — along with 4,100 other wannabes — mailed in a videotape, never imagining she’d be chosen.
Amazingly, Kristy would become one of six finalists. Over the course of one frantic fall, she’d fly New York City twice a week for performances and a harrowing on-air voting process in between writing term papers and studying for exams. Kristy lasted through five elimination rounds, only to lose in the final round to a singer from Atlanta. And she did it all without a trace of the stage fright that she’d worked so hard to overcome as a young teenager.
Though Kristy took second place, her performances had captured the attention of David Foster and Warner Bros. Records. Foster, the legendary producer behind such divas as Whitney Houston and Celine Dion, wanted to work with Kristy; Warner Bros. was interested in signing her to a record deal. But early on in her Today show interviews, Kristy had professed an interest in Christian music. It’s a conviction she holds fast to today.
align=left>LaShell Griffin – “Oprah’s Pop Star Challenge”
Oprah decided to join the reality TV music competition craze, and voting results of “Oprah’s Pop Star Challenge” were recently announced. The winner was LaShell Griffin, a 36-year-old stay-at-home mother of five from Detroit, Michigan. Griffin received an Epic Records recording contract as a result of the competition. INO Records has partnered with Epic to release Griffin’s debut, FREE, to the Christian market on May 25, 2004.
LaShell was immediately surrounded by fans when she came backstage and had to take a moment or two to sign autographs while she was in the media room.
RJ Helton – “American Idol”
With a captivating performance as a finalist in the first season of the breakout hit TV series, “American Idol,” and his first major-label release, Real Life, on B-Rite Music, the RJ Helton’s childhood dreams are coming true. Singing almost as soon as he learned to talk, RJ never had a problem deciding what he wanted to do. At the age of three, RJ amazed his parents with an uncanny, dead-on ability to mimic nearly any singer who came on the radio. By age five RJ gave his first public performance at an amateur talent show and knew then he wanted to be a singer.
Settling in Atlanta halfway through his freshman year of high school, RJ’s personal faith took on a new and deeper dimension. Raised in a strong, church-going family, RJ put down roots in a church and he soon became the leader of the church’s youth worship team.
When he was 16, RJ captured the attention of the promoters of a musical tour of schools, sponsored by Reader’s Digest magazine, that spanned the East Coast and Ohio Valley. Previously the same launching pad for pop stars Paula Abdul and the Backstreet Boys, the tour gave RJ the opportunity to perform over 150 dates in his last two years of high school.
Upon his high school graduation, RJ was invited to Nashville to join Soul Focus, a young vocal act. The group was invited to tour with a major Christian artist. When Soul Focus failed to land a recording contract, the group folded. At the end of 2001, RJ returned to Atlanta. He had been home less than a week when he saw an ad announcing the auditions for a new reality TV program, “American Idol.” The 9,000th person of an initial 10,000 preliminary contestants, RJ was selected to be on the show and eventually earned a place among the season’s Top 5 finalists.
After his performances on “American Idol” and the tour that followed, RJ was courted by several record labels. He quickly found what felt like a natural home at B-Rite Music, the pop music imprint of music industry powerhouse Gospo Centric Records. “I’m a huge fan of Kirk Franklin, which is what originally sparked my interest in B-Rite,” says RJ. “We all met, and it was clear almost immediately that it was a perfect match. They understood that I wanted to sing about my faith, but also other things that were on my heart…love songs, and songs that deal with day-to-day issues as I see and live them.”
Since his Wild Card spot on the debut season of “American Idol,” RJ has made appearances on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, The Today Show, Good Morning America, Entertainment Tonight, E! Television, MTV’S Total Request Live, CNN, and Old Navy tv commercials, among others. He has been featured in People Magazine, US Weekly, Entertainment Weekly, Billboard, Radio & Records Magazine, YM Magazine, Pop Star, and many others.
Bryan Chan – “Making the Band”
After a tremendous amount of international success with the Atlantic Records group LMNT, founding member Bryan Chan has announced his indefinite departure from the group to pursue a solo career. Bryan is currently writing and recording in Nashville and Los Angeles, and has just completed a 5-song EP titled “The Solo Sessions.” Produced by Sam Mizell (Jessie Daniels, American Idol’s RJ Helton), the CD will be available on April 12th, exclusively at Bryan Chan.
Chan was a finalist on Season One of the hit ABC/MTV series “Making the Band”, and he formed LMNT and signed with Atlantic Records shortly thereafter. LMNT’s hit song “Juliet” has been in heavy rotation on Radio Disney for over a year, and their music videos are in constant rotation on The Disney Channel. LMNT toured last year with Britney Spears as the opening act on her “Dream Within A Dream Tour”, as well as tours with Aaron Carter, Play, Jump5, Baha Men and others.
LMNT recently recorded a new version of the song “A Whole New World” for Walt Disney Records’ “Disneymania 2”, and they will be featured on the upcoming “Radio Disney Ultimate Jams” CD & DVD. In 2003, LMNT also recorded songs for several Disney soundtracks including “The Lizzie McGuire Movie”, “Kim Possible”, “101 Dalmations 2”, and “Radio Disney Jams Vol. 5”.
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