Q&A: Gospel singer hopes to shine nationally

Johnathan Dawson sings for a higher calling, and is hoping he gets a chance to do it nationally.

Dawson, 41, recently advanced through an audition for Black Entertainment Television's "Sunday Best." The show is an open audition for gospel singers, with prizes including money and a recording contract. Dawson has one album, "Melody of Love," produced in 2006, but noted that "Sunday Best" would be the type of jumping point for a subsequent album.

He is waiting on notification for whether he will be part of the show's fifth season.

Dawson and his wife, LaTonya, have two daughters — Zaria and Braelyn.

Q: How long have you been a gospel singer, and what is it that you enjoy about the music?

A: I could say I've been singing in church since I was about 4 years old. But as far as singing gospel as an artist, I would say since high school, since 1985. Gospel delivers the message of Jesus Christ. I'm a born-again Christian. It's my way of sharing with the world about his love. I believe my singing is a gift given from my God, and it's my way of returning that gift to him.

Q: For somebody unfamiliar with "Sunday Best," give us a brief synopsis.

A: To simply describe it, it's the gospel version of American Idol. It's a singing competition. They tour about four cities. This season, they've toured Dallas. They're touring Washington, D.C., Atlanta and St. Louis to gather 20 contestants that will be aired on the show.

Q: You went to the Dallas show. What is the experience like?

A: This is my first time going to the audition. It was interesting. It's pretty much what you see on other shows. You wait in line, you audition with a brief song off of a list they give you. I sang "Blessed Assurance"; I did a portion of that song.

They had three rounds of screenings to get through.

The first round, they took 20 contestants at a time into a room. We all sang a piece of the song we chose, about 15 or 20 seconds worth. From that 20, he chose four. Then we stepped up, and we had to do a sing-off from a song he chose. He picked "Amazing Grace." Out of the four contestants, I was picked to go on.

The second round of screenings, I didn't have to go through. I did a VIP, so I moved right on to the celebrity judges. It was something you had to register for online. They only took the first 200 who registered. It doesn't guarantee you anything; you still have to have talent to go on further.

Q: So the process is virtually guaranteed to eliminate good singers, because five people in one group may be better than all 20 in the next.

A: Right.

Q: How was the third round different?

A: The third round, it was a nerve-wracking experience. Donnie McClurkin, Yolanda Adams and Kim Burrell; those are the celebrity judges. You just did your best, and you either got a yes or a no. If I do make it on TV, it's the third round that gets on the air.

They'll edit everything they've shot in each city. After they reveal the 20, that's where you sing live in front of an audience. The show will be aired from Atlanta.

Q: You've been adamant that you are not a part of the show, and you're not guaranteed anything at this point. Describe the waiting period you're working with.

A: They did give a few people a yes. They're only going to take 20 contestants, total, from all the cities they toured. They said I'll have to sit and wait. I'll receive a letter or a phone call to let me know if I'm picked for Season 5. That will be revealed after they've done all of their city tours … probably the end of April, beginning of May. I think the last audition is April 21 in St. Louis.

Q: How long have you watched the show?

A: I've watched all four previous seasons. I like it, No. 1, because it's actually promoting gospel music, and I'm a gospel artist. It gives people a chance to take their talent to another level. It's an avenue to become a professional gospel artist.

Q: When did you go from, "I like this show," to, "I want to be on this show."?

A: I've been wanting to be on that show since it came out. Seasons 1, 2 and 3 let me know what it was like. Season 4, I wanted to go out, but because of some medical things that happened, I wasn't able to do it.

Q: Now, TV networks and audiences are fickle, and no show's immune to a chopping block. Were you concerned the show would end before you took a shot?

A: That did cross my mind. This is the soonest I could go. I talked with my brother. It was something planted in the back of my mind. I talked with my brother, talked with a couple people. It was just a drive to Dallas; that had a lot to do with it.

I used to work for the Clovis Municipal Schools, but I'm on medical leave … which actually opened the door for me to do this.

I experienced open heart surgery last year; that's what I underwent. Sometimes you wonder why things happen. Hindsight is 20/20. You'll see why. I wanted to do the show last year, and the timing just wasn't right. I believe all of those things set up this year.

This is the year everything came together.

Q: What do you take away from the experience?

A: I take away just the overall experience of not being afraid to step out. If you have a dream, step out and don't let anything hold you back. When God tells you to do something, do it.

— Compiled by CNJ staff writer Kevin Wilson, and edited for length and clarity

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