- The Washington Times - Monday, July 18, 2005

Angela Blair’s voice won her $25,000 and a shot at a record contract, but she doesn’t have big plans. “All I want is a dining room table,” Mrs. Blair said after winning $25,000 in the second annual Kraft Gospel Talent Search last month.

The 34-year-old from Rowlett, Texas, said she would use the rest of the prize money to help people.

Mrs. Blair became the second winner of the contest June 30, beating out nearly 1,000 other contestants for the prize money, an audition with Sony Urban Gospel Music and an opportunity to perform at the Essence Music Festival.

The gospel contest in some ways was reminiscent of the hit TV show “American Idol,” with celebrity judges narrowing a huge field of contestants. In Kraft’s contest, gospel recording artist Kim Burrell served as the celebrity host at the House of Blues in New Orleans.

The success of “American Idol” has spawned numerous spinoffs, such as USA Network’s “Nashville Star,” whose winner is determined by viewer voting.

Others have sprung up to give exposure to undiscovered talents and reach out to underrepresented genres. Lifeway Christian Stores sponsors a Christian music talent search. Juice maker Apple & Eve sponsors an annual folk music talent search.

Kraft Foods teamed up with Sony Music Entertainment and Essence magazine to create a venue for gospel talent. It also provided Sony with a chance to see potential stars in a genre with “tremendous” growth, a Sony spokeswoman said.

Tara Griggs-Magee, director of the gospel division of Sony Urban, which oversees gospel and urban music for the Epic and Columbia labels, said gospel music is being used in movies more often and the market is growing overseas, “even outside the seams of the church.”

“With a lot of the things that are happening in the world today … with terrorism the world is just searching for something. It’s sort of like a spiritual renewal,” Mrs. Griggs-Magee said.

“There’s a lot of negative music out on the marketplace and it offers a positive alternative,” she said.

Mrs. Griggs-Magee, who was one of the judges, said the talent search provides an opportunity for artists who are outside the mainstream, and “the exposure in the African-American community is tremendous.”

“We work in an industry that’s very, very competitive,” she said. “Just to have an opportunity to have exposure and have your talent heard is a huge opportunity.”

Kraft spokesman Larry Baumann said, “We’re always looking to speak to consumers in relevant, meaningful ways. We’re always looking to nourish the minds, bodies and spirits of ours consumers.”

Mr. Baumann said Kraft’s goal in the talent search was to offer members of the black community a voice they otherwise might not have. “It’s designed to provide exposure for undiscovered gospel talent,” he said.

“I definitely appreciate them creating a platform for me to be able to express my talent and my gift,” Mrs. Blair said, adding that gospel music brings together many ethnic groups.

Gospel, she said, is “the foundation of music, something that’s from the heart and from the soul.”

Mrs. Blair said she started singing at age 6 in her Texas church. She has been performing ever since, occasionally taking time off to spend with her husband and children. In 2004, she released a demo, “Give Me Your Love,” but said she is looking forward to the opportunity to record with Sony Urban Gospel Music.

Winners aren’t guaranteed a contract with the recording company. Last year’s winner, NaTasha Williams, did not receive an offer, but she did perform at this year’s show.

Mr. Baumann said Kraft intends to continue supporting the gospel talent search, and Mrs. Blair said she thinks the contest will “be one of the premier contests in the future.”

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