Gospel singer Mandisa was a finalist on American Idol in 2006. Since then, she has received three Grammy nominations and released four albums, including It's Christmas in 2008. This year, she's revamped that as It's Christmas (Christmas Angel Edition), a mix of original songs and modern interpretations of classic holiday tunes, including the singer's favorite, "The Little Drummer Boy."
" 'Little Drummer Boy' is often a very somber song. I think the meaning gets lost," Mandisa tells NPR's Steve Inskeep. "The fact of the matter is that we all have gifts and talents, and God wants us to use those to really just worship him. And for this little boy ... he couldn't sing, he probably wasn't a great preacher, but he could play the mess out of some drums."
Mandisa says that for her, the holiday season has no official start date. It begins, she says, only when she feels fully in the Christmas spirit.
"Certain things just remind me of Christmas," she says. "I never feel like it's Christmas until I've seen A Christmas Carol, It's a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street. I wanted to celebrate the things that make it Christmas for me."
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
A musician who makes a successful Christmas album is assured of a long career with the songs returning year after year, and this season we've been hearing some of the newest entries into that field, including this.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)
MANDISA: (Singing) It takes some time to start the day, the gifts that joy and hope will bring...
INSKEEP: Gospel singer Mandisa was a finalist on "American Idol" in 2006. Since then she's received three Grammy nominations and now she's out with an update to her 2008 album, "It's Christmas." "The Christmas Angel Edition," it's called. The holiday season is here now, but it was not when Mandisa was recording the album in July. It required some decorating to get it done.
MANDISA: We have to make this studio really festive. We have to put up a Christmas tree and some lights to get me thinking about Christmas just to record.
INSKEEP: Seriously, you put a Christmas tree in the studio for this?
MANDISA: Absolutely, yeah.
INSKEEP: Oh, that's great. So I can hear the kind of tinsel or the sound of some needles falling off or whatever?
MANDISA: Exactly. You probably will. You might hear some fireworks going off in the background too, for Fourth of July.
INSKEEP: Okay. Well, let's talk about some of what you've put on this album, and in fact let's listen to some. There's a song, let's listen to a bit of it, called "Christmas Makes Me Cry."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHRISTMAS MAKES ME CRY")
MANDISA: (Singing) I think of summer leaves, I think of fall. I say a pray for those who spend this time alone.
This song is taking on a different meaning for me this year, considering what happened in Newtown, Connecticut. I think about those mothers and fathers who are celebrating this Christmas without their children. You know, for people like that or for people who have lost loved ones during this time or people who have loved ones serving in the military, I just wanted to make sure that they knew they weren't forgotten and every tear that we cry, that we're not crying it alone and that there are a lot of people who need comforting this time of year.
INSKEEP: Well, let's listen to some of one other song from your album here. It's got a very simple title, maybe deceptively simple, "It's Christmas."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT'S CHRISTMAS")
MANDISA: (Singing) It's time to give. We're gonna celebrate Christmas.
INSKEEP: Okay. What do you mean by pointing out the obvious?
MANDISA: Well, for me certain things just sort of remind me of Christmas. I never feel like it's Christmas until I've seen "It's a Wonderful Life" and "Miracle on 34th Street." And I wanted to celebrate the things that make it Christmas for me.
INSKEEP: I'd put "It's A Wonderful Life" in there, but I think I'd probably go for "A Christmas Story" and "The Charlie Brown Christmas Special" perhaps.
MANDISA: Yeah. Those aren't my favorites. I don't know why they feel depressing to me. I prefer, you know, thinking about things like "Miracle On 34th Street." I mean that's a happy-go-lucky kind of a movie and I think I'm a happy-go-lucky kind of a girl.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE LITTLE DRUMMER BOY")
MANDISA: (Singing) Come, they told me, pa-rum-pum-pum-pum.
INSKEEP: You have also done your version of "Little Drummer Boy." Let's listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MANDISA: (Singing) The baby Jesus, pa-rum-pum-pum-pum.
INSKEEP: I like this song, but I think there may be no Christmas song that is more likely to enrage some people or cause them to turn off the radio.
MANDISA: Okay. Well, let me tell you why this is probably my favorite Christmas song. I think the meaning gets lost. The fact of the matter is, is that we all have gifts and talents and God wants us to use those to really just worship him. And for this little boy, he couldn't sing. He probably wasn't a great preacher. But he could play the mess out of some drums.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MANDISA: And the other thing, I think "Little Drummer Boy" is often a very somber song, but if you think about it, you find drums and that's usually a party. So I love my version because at the end of it, it's a big ol' party.
INSKEEP: Mandisa's new album is called "It's Christmas (Christmas Angel Edition)." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.