‘American Idol’ alum Mandisa death at 47 follows life of struggles, faith, inspiration

The death of “American Idol” alum Mandisa has left family, friends and fans devastated as an investigation is underway.

Authorities are “conducting an active death investigation stemming from a body that was discovered Thursday evening at a residence,” Franklin Police Department Public Information manager Max Wintz told Fox News Digital last week.

On Monday, the Franklin, Tennessee, Police Department shared an update on X, formerly Twitter, writing, “The Franklin Police Department is continuing to investigate the death of a woman found inside a Beamon Dr. residence last Thursday evening. Over the weekend, a medical examiner identified the deceased individual as Mandisa Hundley, 47.”

The post continued, “At this time, there is no indication the death was the result of suspicious or criminal activity.”

“The Franklin Police Department sends its condolences to Hundley’s family, friends, and fans,” it concluded.

While her loved ones await answers, Mandisa’s life and faith are being celebrated.

Born Mandisa Hundley in California, she attended Fisk University in Nashville where she earned a bachelor’s degree in music in 2000 and was a member of the famous Fisk University Jubilee singers, according to The Tennessean.

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After graduating, Mandisa worked as a session and backup vocalist for big names like Trisha Yearwood and Shania Twain.

In 2005, she auditioned in Chicago for “American Idol” and competed in the show’s fifth season alongside other future stars like Katharine McPhee, Chris Daughtry, Kellie Pickler and winner Taylor Hicks.

During the competition, she showcased her stunning gospel vocals and firm Christian faith.

Judge Simon Cowell made several critical remarks about Mandisa’s weight throughout the show, leading to her delivering a powerful speech. 

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“Simon, a lot of people want me to say a lot of things to you,” she said. “But this is what I want to say to you is that, yes, you hurt me, and I cried, and it was painful. It really was. But I want you to know that I’ve forgiven you and that you don’t need someone to apologize in order to forgive somebody. I figure that if Jesus could die so that all of my wrongs could be forgiven, I can certainly extend that same grace to you.”

Cowell hugged her immediately and said he felt “humbled.”

In an interview with CBN after her time on the show, Mandisa recalled the moment she stood up to Cowell and how it was guided by her faith.

“It’s funny because the producers were setting me up,” she told the outlet. “As soon as we got there, we were all in a room, and the producers said, ‘This episode is all about reaction.’ Then the producers looked directly at me and said, ‘If Simon says something mean about you, you tell him off. You let him have it. They know that you’re going to tell them off, so you just say whatever you want to, and we can bleep out anything that is not TV-friendly.’ I just thought, ‘Oh, trust me. I’ve got some words for him.’ It’s not what they expected, but I did it because it was what the Lord wanted me to do.”

She added, “I knew telling him that I forgave him would kind of disarm him, if you will, and that he would be graced. I didn’t know if he had ever felt that before.”

Mandisa finished ninth on “American Idol,” and the show is planning a tribute to her next Monday.

In a statement, “American Idol” praised her, saying, “Mandisa was an adored icon on ‘American Idol’ and in the music industry. She had become a platinum-selling artist and had won several Grammys for her music. Her passing has left everyone on the show heartbroken, and we extend our deepest condolences to her family.”

Though she stood her ground against Cowell’s comments about her weight, she admitted over the years that her weight had been something she struggled with for most of her life.

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“Food has always been a problem for me,” Mandisa told The Oklahoman in 2008. “When Simon first made the comments, it was a nightmare. But God turned it around. Those words became the impetus I needed to kick-start my plan to live a more healthful lifestyle and get my eating under control.”

“The part of me that wanted to give everything to the dream of pursuing ‘American Idol’ was constantly kept in check by the hurt little girl who’s heard too many mean things in gym class,” she said in the interview.

According to The Oklahoman, in her 2007 book “Idoleyes: My New Perspective on Faith, Fat & Fame,” Mandisa wrote, “Instead of calling on the Lord to lift me, I kept dialing Papa John’s [pizza] in an effort to fill my needs.”

She told the Denver Post that her faith helped her refocus her weight-loss efforts, saying, “I had dieted before, I had lost weight. My faith taught me about obedience in the Lord, and I want my body to be a temple not a hindrance. And my weight has been a hindrance my whole life.”

In her interview with CBN, she spoke about the origins of her turning to food for comfort following her parents’ separation and her father moving away.

“As a child I started to wonder if it was my fault,” Mandisa told the outlet. “Did I do something that made Dad leave? I was only 2 years old, but as I grew up, I just started questioning that sort of thing. I started feeling like I had to perform in order to warrant his love. At that point, I think I started wrestling with feelings of abandonment and – not having a father figure in my life – he is still a very big part of my life, just not right there with me. I just started turning to food in order to comfort.”

She focused on forgiveness, saying, “When I realized that he was able to go on and live a very happy life, it was holding me back. I did not want my unforgiveness to have that effect on me, and I have learned that forgiveness is just as much for the person that is forgiving [than] for the person being forgiven.”

In her interview, she also revealed she had been raped as a teenager, a trauma that further fueled her food addiction.

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“When that happened at 16, it was like a floodgate opened. I started to eat and eat and eat. I think I was sort of shielding myself off from anybody else that could harm me,” she said.

Mandisa did not elaborate on the incident, but CBN wrote that she was able to forgive her rapist.

Reflecting on the nature of forgiveness and the Cowell moment on “Good Morning America” in 2022, Mandisa said, “It’s really more for the person forgiving than the person being forgiven. And it really set me free, and that’s a lesson I’ve taken away from my time on ‘American Idol’ ever since.”

In 2007, after her time on “American Idol,” Mandisa released her first album, “True Beauty,” which debuted at No. 1 on the Top Christian Albums charts and No. 43 on the Billboard charts, a rare feat for a Christian artist.

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“True Beauty” was nominated for best pop/contemporary gospel album at the 2008 Grammys, and she went on to earn two more nominations for her albums “Freedom” and “What If We Were Real.”

In 2014, she won the Grammy for her album “Overcomer” but was absent from the ceremony.

She explained on her website the next day that she’d missed the show because of her schedule and worries about having her appearance critiqued.

“I have been struggling with being in the world, not of it lately. I have fallen prey to the alluring pull of flesh, pride, and selfish desires quite a bit recently,” she wrote at the time.

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It was at that time she also faced a personal loss that rattled her faith and sent her into a three-year depression.

Her friend, Kisha, the inspiration behind the award-winning album, died from breast cancer, and as she explained during an episode of “Women of Faith on TBN” in 2023, Mandisa felt completely lost and disconnected.

“I don’t think I realized it at the time, but I was disappointed because I thought God tricked me,” she said. “I thought that He said one thing, and then I thought well maybe He didn’t, maybe I just can’t hear [Him.] So, I just shut Him out, I shut everybody out. I didn’t answer my phone, I didn’t respond to text messages. At one point, my pastor and another great friend of mine were banging on my door. I just completely ignored them because I didn’t want anything to do with Jesus or Jesus people. So, it was a really, really dark time for me.”

Mandisa said she turned to food in her grief, noting she had been on a weight-loss journey “ever since Simon made fun of me on national television.”

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She said she lost 120 pounds at the time of her friend’s death, but she gained it all back plus 75 more and began having borderline suicidal thoughts in her depression.

As she explained, the negativity from “the enemy” she heard was: “Jesus does not want you to be in this kind of pain. You are a child of God and there’s no way this is the abundant life he wanted you to live. So, if you were to take your life right now, you could be in Heaven with them.”

What stopped her was faith she would be in Heaven, but “He’s going to be the one to choose, it’s not going to be by my own hand.”

“It was completely overwhelming. I could see no hope whatsoever. I thought, ‘I don’t know if I could live this way anymore,’” Mandisa described later in the interview. “While I wasn’t ready to end it myself, I was asking God to. In those few times when I would talk to God, the only thing I said was, ‘Just kill me. Clearly, you don’t have a purpose for me. I can’t see a way out of this, so why don’t you just take me, end my life.’ Thank God, He didn’t, and thank God that He still has a story.”

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What further helped her emerge from her depression was the support of her friends, who staged an “intervention” of sorts.

“Those are my friends, they fought for me, and they essentially said, ‘We’re not going to let you do this any longer.” So they forced me to get counseling, which finally helped me deal with my grief. So again, if you’re in that dark place, you need to have the family of God.”

In 2022, Mandisa released a memoir titled “Out of the Dark: My Journey Through the Shadows to Find God’s Joy,” detailing her struggles with depression.

That year, during her appearance on “Good Morning America,” she said, “My dream is that this book will be a tool used in living rooms and coffee shops all over the world to help prompt discussions about our mental health.”

“I’ve learned firsthand that talking about it helps it lose some of its power,” she continued, hoping it encourages friends to have discussions that can “lead to healing.”

She also discussed her song, “It’s Not Over,” with Jasmine Murray and Rita Springer, saying, “It gives me hope and encouragement because God is still writing my story. He’s not done yet. So, it’s one I sing often to myself.”

At the time of the memoir’s release, Mandisa also posted encouraging words of faith and support for mental health struggles on her Instagram.

Mandisa shared one quote from her book in a post, writing, “The upside of this struggle is that through it, I understand that God’s grace is sufficient and His power is made perfect in my weakness.”

In the caption, she added, “I share about the good, the bad and the dark, challenging times I’ve experienced along the way. And along the way, I learned how to trust God fully even when I couldn’t see or hear Him. During those times it wasn’t an easy path to follow, but it’s been well worth it! He proves His love over and over.”


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