LaShell Griffin, a stay-at-home mother of five, devoted wife, and devout Christian who loves to sing in the church choir, once told her children that one day she would appear on The Oprah Winfrey Show. She did not know how or why, but she believed it would happen. In the fall of 2003 Griffin's dream came true when she was selected as one of the finalists in Winfrey's Pop Star Challenge. After several performances on the show during February 2004, Griffin was voted the contest's winner, earning her a record deal with Epic Records. Her first album, Free, was released in May 2004.
From Housewife to Celebrity
Lashell Griffin was born in 1967 and raised in Detroit, Michigan. Even as a young child she knew that music would be an important part of her life. She learned to sing from her grandmother, who was an influential person in Griffin's life until her death in 2003. At the age of nine Griffin yearned to sing in her church's choir, and when she finally reached the required age of 13, she eagerly joined the choir and regularly performed solos. Despite her obvious vocal talent and the positive response from the congregation, Griffin was frightfully shy about performing in front of people. "I started off holding my head down when I sang," she wrote on her official Web site. "Then I started looking at the ceiling, then the clock on the wall in front of me. Finally, I just started singing with my eyes closed so I could tune out everything and everyone and just deliver."
By her early thirties, Griffin's love of music was sharing the stage in her busy life as a stay-at-home mother to five children. At the age of 18, Griffin had married Lee Griffin, also a talented singer, and set up house in Detroit, where they began raising their children, Levotis, Raphael, LeSahe, Nathan, and Briana. Music is a family affair as all the Griffin children sing, and Levotis, the oldest, began studying music at Michigan State University in 2004. Despite her many family responsibilities, Griffin, encouraged by her husband, continued to sing in the church choir, and her beautiful solos garnered numerous requests for her to perform at weddings. In fact, Griffin became such a popular wedding singer that she was often performing at two or three weddings each weekend, and her pastor had to be enlisted to help manage her scheduling.
In the fall of 2003 Griffin's hectic life was necessarily slowed down after she broke her foot, which required surgery. While watching television during her recovery, Griffin happened to catch The Oprah Winfrey Show during which Winfrey called on the audience to send in tapes to enter the first-ever The Oprah Winfrey Pop Star Challenge. Griffin wrote down the information but then waited a couple of weeks before mentioning the idea to her husband. "I had been down for at least four weeks from the surgery and I realized that it was a lot on him with work and taking care of the home," she told the Gospel City Web site. "I said I really, really want to do this and I decided to share it with him and he said 'Go for it.' I was blown away by that response because I would have understood if he said it wasn't the season for it, just take care of your foot and let's see what happens after that."
The Pop Star Challenge
With her husband's help, Griffin made a recording of a heart-felt rendition of "Amazing Grace" at their church and sent the tape to The Oprah Winfrey Show. Eight days later, as Griffin was pulling into the driveway after picking her husband up from work, the telephone was ringing. Much to Griffin's surprise and excitement, it was a producer for The Oprah Winfrey Show calling to tell her that she had been selected from over 15,000 entries as one of eight semifinalists. Later she found out that she was not in the original finalist list but producers went back, reviewed the tapes once more, and ended up selecting hers.
In a whirlwind of activity, producers came to Griffin's house, interviewed her and her family, went to church with them, and eventually invited Griffin to perform on the show. On February 9, 2004, after several days of rehearsals, makeovers, and voice coaching, Griffin made her first appearance on the show, singing "Where Do Broken Hearts Go." According to the rules of the contest, celebrity judges comment on the performances but voting is done by the viewing audience via the internete and telephone. Following her opening performance, celebrity judge Brian McKnight told Griffin, "That was one of the sweetest voices I've ever heard," as quoted on the Oprah Web site.
Surviving the cut to the three finalists, Griffin performed again on the show on February 16, this time singing "The Greatest Love of All." Her performance was met with unanimous praise by the panel of expert judges. Simon Cowell of FOX's American Idol fame said, "I thought you were absolutely fantastic. What you have, you feel it all around you, the public already has bought into you. And you are the argument why older singers deserve a chance in a competition like this," according to the Oprah Web site. The audience agreed, and when the votes were tallied, Griffin was announced as the first Pop Star Challenge winner and was awarded a recording contract with Epic Records.
Recorded Her First Album
On the heels of her exciting win, Griffin entered the studio to put together her first album, Free, which was released on May 25, 2004. She had exactly nine days to cut the ten songs. "The songs that were chosen were so close to my heart," she told Christianity Today. "I fought hard to get those particular songs on the album because one thing I've always wanted to do was to bridge the gaps. There's such segregation between Christian music and gospel music and inspirational music and pop music. I've always wanted to bring that all together."
Free, which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard Top Gospel Albums charts and earned positive reviews, blends contemporary R&B, pop, and gospel in its offerings. The first cut, "You Are Mine," a soulful R&B mix in the tradition of Patti LaBelle, is followed by the title track, "Free." The Soultracks Web site reviewer noted, "Griffin is at her finest...on the album's title cut, a fairly ordinary ballad that is absolutely lifted up by her explosive performance." She also received praise for her rendition of MercyMe's "I Can Only Imagine" as well as for "Faith," a gospel-styled duet with her husband. The album also included "Learn to Breathe," co-written by Griffin, "This Is Who I Am," "Better Days," "Get Away," "Rise," and "He's Coming Again." Griffin promoted Free in a nine-city tour, "Touch a Dream." Some critics, including All Music Guide's Heather Phares, felt the album suffered somewhat from overproduction and weak songwriting that did not allow Griffin the freedom to let her dynamic voice to deliver at its full potential. Despite her reservations, Phares noted in her review, "Griffin clearly has the voice and the 'faith' to make a show-stopping gospel album."
At a Glance...
Born in 1967 in Detroit, Michigan; married Lee Griffin; children: Levotis, Raphael, LeSahe, Nathan, and Briana.
Career: Homemaker; professional pop, gospel, and R&B singer, 2004–.
Awards: The Oprah Winfrey Pop Star Challenge, winner, 2004.
Addresses: Record Label —Epic Records, 550 Madison Ave New York, NY 10022; Agent —Covenant Entertainment, (586) 498-9074; Web —www.lashellgriffinmusic.com.
In many ways life has changed significantly for Griffin, who was treated as a celebrity on her return to Detroit after winning the contest. Yet, she continues to focus on her role as a wife and mother and has even maintained her place on the cleaning committee at her church. She told the Music Remedy Web site that, "I always wanted my mission in life to be to spread the messages that are important to me. I knew that I was a good wife and a good mother. But I also knew there would be much more in store for me. I was right. And I hope my music will inspire others to look deeply into their hearts and soul and find out what they are meant to do. Because everyone has their season. And this is mine." Griffin continues to perform in a variety of events and venues as well as remaining active in her church and with her family.
Free, Epic Records, 2004.
Billboard, July 31, 2004.
Jet, March 15, 2004, p. 62.
O, The Oprah Magazine, May 2004, p. 70.
"LaShell Griffin," All Music Guide, www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&searchlink=LASHELL|GRIFFIN&uid=CAW010502181134&sql=11:8b7tk6axtkr3~T0 (February 18, 2005).
"LaShell Griffin," E.O.M.: Evolution of Media, http://www.eomentertainment.com/reviews/LaShell_Griffin/Free.shtml (February 18, 2005).
"LaShell Griffin," GospelCity, www.gospelcity.com/dynamic/artist-articles/interviews/128 (February 18, 2005).
"LaShell Griffin" [radio interview], HJ's Praise Party, www.gospel-spotlight.com/lashell_griffin_intvw.htm (February 18, 2005).
"LaShell Griffin," NewsBeats, www.newsbeats.com/lashell (February 18, 2005).
"LaShell Griffin," Soul Tracks, www.soultracks.com/lashell_griffin.htm (February 18, 2005).
"LaShell Griffin: Free," Christianity Today, www.christianitytoday.com/music/reviews/2004/free.html (February 18, 2005).
LaShell Griffin Official Web Site, www.lashellgriffinmusic.com (February 18, 2005).
"Mom in Pop," Christianity Today, www.christianitytoday.com/music/interviews/2004/lashellgriffin-0604.html (February 2005).
"Oprah Presents LaShell Griffin," MusicRemedy, www.musicremedy.com/articles/index.cfm?FuseAction=ShowMessage&Id=693 (February 18, 2005).
"Pop Star Challenge: LaShell Griffin," Oprah, www.oprah.com/presents/2004/popstar/contest/pop_contest_05.jhtml (February 18, 2005).
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