She was just 17 years old, but with a step out on faith, Koryn Hawthorne made a decision that would forever alter the course of her life when she auditioned for the NBC hit singing competition, The Voice. That she made it on the show was little surprise to those who had witnessed her talent as a child and who’d long declared her God-given gifts would take her far. And while they were not surprised when she was selected by vocal powerhouse Christina Aguilera—and then subsequently saved by Grammy-winning, hitmaker Pharrell Williams— they did not know just how far those talents would take her.
Over the next three months, the show’s nearly 14 million viewers would come to know the depth of her talents as well. The studio version of her live performance of “Make it Rain” by Foy Vance went to number 3 on iTunes’ top 10 list and debuted at number 84 on Billboard’s Hot 100, and she was twice saved by the public after near-elimination.
Performing songs from the likes of Beyonce, Alicia Keys, Kelly Clarkson and James Brown, Hawthorne’s powerful vocals impressed not only the public but the judges as well, with Maroon 5 singer and judge Adam Levine saying she had a “drastic, incredible, unbelievable journey.”
But what impressed some most about Hawthorne was her gospel convictions. Defying the perceptions of most 17-year old musically-gifted teens who opt for secular music, Hawthorne—who’d been cut from American Idol for deciding to sing a gospel song after the producers had told her not to—once again chose to sing a gospel song in the semi-finals.
She admits that she was unsure if she could do gospel music because she didn’t see anyone who was singing about God and who sounded like her, on the mainstage. Fortunately, Williams saw how special her walk with God was, even when she didn’t see it just yet.
“Pharrell was my coach on ‘The Voice’ and he encouraged me to not change. He thought that it was super dope that I wanted to do inspirational music,” Hawthorne said. “Our relationship was so amazing because Pharrell has a Pentecostal background and we talked throughout the whole course of the show about God and how he was raised.
“I was like whatever you want me to do, I will do it. If he wanted me to be Beyonce, I would’ve done that. But he didn’t want me to be Beyonce. I’m grateful because I don’t think I realized how special it was at that time. To be brought up the way I was brought up and know God the way I know Him and on a platform like that.”
In a business notorious for challenging the artistic integrity of those who want to “make it,” Hawthorne is grateful for God’s protection at the very beginning of her career. She finished the competition in fourth place and found a lifelong mentor in Williams. Hawthorne was ready to embody the vision that the industry may have wanted for her, but Pharrell and even record executives knew how authentic and powerful her voice for God was and he encouraged her to pursue a career in gospel music even when she received the opportunity to take the secular path.
Born in Abbeville, Louisiana, the 22-year-old grew up singing in church where an overseer predicted that her talent would be seen by the world, but she also admired more secular artists.
“I grew up listening and singing Tina Turner and Aretha Franklin. I definitely didn’t feel like there was a place for me,” she explained. “But ultimately, it’s God and through my prayers, my mom’s prayers, for God to continue to orchestrate every step of my life…that’s always what it was for me.”
Hawthorne released her first album, “Unstoppable” in 2018 and reached number 1 on Billboard’s Top Gospel Albums chart. The album’s hit single, “Won’t He Do It” reached number 1 on three of Billboard’s main gospel charts and has over 6 million streams on Spotify. In a rare feat, her first complete body of work earned her two Grammy nominations, an NAACP Award, Stellar Award, Billboard Music Award and two Dove Awards, amongst numerous other nominations.
These days, Hawthorne is proud to be bringing the gospel to a new generation who may not connect with the traditional, religious route, and happy that God has surrounded her with a strong team for support.
“This is where I am and I’m happy about it,” she states emphatically. “I see the plan of God over my life and I see how now I’m influencing a whole generation that feels like they’re different. I know my purpose in God is great, so that drives me to dream even bigger.”
Indeed, by all accounts, she’s just getting started. The powerhouse vocalist released a new album, “I Am” on September 18 and its lead single, “Pray” has already reached number 1 on Billboard’s Gospel Digital Song Sales chart.
The entire creative process for the album was laidback, with the recording of the project being completed in only two weeks. The team didn’t go in with a plan but instead allowed God to flow through the music.
“It allowed God to come in and do what he wanted to do, and it also allowed our natural gifts and talents to come through. It was so organic and authentic and that’s what people can expect to hear, the authenticity,” Hawthorne explained. “It’s raw and pure. It’s encouragement all around the board. I’m so excited for people to hear it, especially in these times, because of the pandemic, because of what we’re going through. I think we need strength.”
God’s grace is what’s pulling Hawthorne through a difficult point in time for the entire world. Amid the global pandemic, she’s had to rework the marketing strategy for her new album. With the restrictions, she’s been filling up her spare time with cooking, finding new T.V. shows to watch and spending time with her family. The singer’s relationship with God has also grown with all the introspection.
“It’s causing us to see Him for who he is outside of church, outside of religion, outside of those things,” she said. “As much as I’m sure people would love to go to the altar call right now, you can’t. You have to read God for yourself.”
More than anything, she wants her new album to be a comfort and source of inspiration for people struggling during this uncertain time.
“I feel like people right now need strength and I think that’s what this album is. Hopefully with this album, it helps people to feel that. I want it to be used as a tool.”
In fact, the vocalist is more than willing to push boundaries in her music if it means helping others.
Every time I went into the studio, I just talked about how I feel,” said the Abbeville, Louisiana native. “I’m never going to stop being authentic. If it’s something that I’ve been through, we’re going to talk about it because my whole thing is about helping other people. There is someone else who’s going to go through that, and they need to hear it. That’s all I can ask for.”
For the now 22-year old Grammy nominated artist, it’s all about God’s grace.
“(Saving Grace) means everything to me. I boldly talk about how imperfect I am and a lot of times, I think we feel like we beat ourselves up more than what God is doing,” she notes. We’ve all made mistakes and have done things where we feel like God is not even looking our way and that’s not true,” she said. “I am so grateful that no matter what I do, he has a plan over my life, and he can restore.”
“His grace is sufficient enough, anything that you could ask for. There’s nothing I could ever do to be enough to deserve what he has given me. That’s what the gospel is about, we don’t deserve it but it’s Jesus, because of his sacrifice, because of what he’s done. The grace of God is unbelievable and I’m grateful for it every day.”