BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
A few years ago, Lauren Daigle was at a Christmas party in Nashville with session musicians Nate Bedingfield and Brandon Coker, guys who played for North Point Ministries in Alpharetta.
As they sat around eating chicken fingers, Daigle pressed them for more information about the church, and soon, the 25-year-old Christian singer found herself living in dual residences in Nashville and Atlanta. She sang at church conferences, led worship sessions with high schoolers and became, as she puts it, “an Atlanta junkie.”
She lived on the Westside and adored the combination of big-city life and small-town appeal.
“Atlanta sort of felt like (my home state) Louisiana. You still have high fashion and all of the things that big cities have and little pockets of town that are interesting, but the people, I found, were more similar to Louisiana people than Nashville people,” she said. “There wasn’t as much pretense about people — which isn’t against Nashville at all — but they have that, instead of ‘let’s meet at a coffee shop,’ a ‘let’s have a meal together’ mentality.
On Sunday, Daigle, who is now exclusively Nashville based — though she gets to Atlanta a half dozen or so times a year to see extended family and friends — will enjoy a spotlight at the 59th annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles.
Not only is she nominated for best contemporary Christian music performance/song for “Trust in You” — the second nomination of her young career — but she will also serve as one of the hosts of the pre-show, now called the Premiere Ceremony, which will stream online at www.grammy.com/live at 3:30 p.m. Along with recent tour mates For King & Country, as well as Jimmy Jam, Rene Marie, Brendon Urie, Mya and Sarah Jarosz, Daigle will help present awards in the 70 categories that aren’t televised during the performance-heavy broadcast.
“I am so pumped,” she said in a phone interview last week, her voice reflecting that excitement as she continued her road trip back to Nashville. “I was (at the Grammys) last year for the first time, so I kind of had no idea what to expect. I didn’t realize I was eligible this year, so this is amazing! And then on top of that, they were like, will you present 13 awards? And I’m going to be doing it with For King & Country and I love those guys.”
While contemporary Christian music has endured its share of criticism for sounding too paint-by-numbers pop, Daigle brings a husky voice with a rustic, bluesy tone to her songs.
She considers herself “from head to feet” a blues and jazz nut, having grown up near New Orleans, where those styles seep into your pores. A fan of Etta James, Adele, Joss Stone and Amy Winehouse, Daigle said she grew up listening to “a bit of everything” and didn’t really begin exploring Christian music until high school.
“It wasn’t a plan of mine,” she said. “It was the door that kept opening, and now I see why the Lord was opening the doors. At the time, I was like, I’ll sing anything but Christian or worship music because of the peer pressure.”
During her time in school, she auditioned for “American Idol” twice, in 2010 and 2012. The first time, she was cut before the top 24 contestants. In 2012, she made it through to Hollywood, but was sent packing after the first round in Las Vegas.
She now sees those rejections as a major blessing.
“When I was (trying out for the show), the Lord showed me what my heart’s true desire was. Worship is just a posture of heart and he wanted to teach me that,” she said. “I just started craving his presence more than anything else. I wanted to see what he was going to do on this Earth, and that’s how Christian music came about for me.”
With a pair of Grammy nominations on her resume as well as a pair of albums — she released the excellent “Behold: A Christmas Collection” this past season and hopes to have a new record out by the end of the year or early 2018 — Daigle laughs when asked if her success is vindicating after being rebuffed by a TV talent show.
“It’s definitely vindicating. My mom said to me one day when I was sad about being off the show, ‘You can choose to listen to the words of man and let that be your affirmation or you can listen to what the Lord has told you. They might have said ‘no,’ but God might be sitting there saying ‘yes.’”
If Daigle hears a “yes” on Sunday and her name is called as the Grammy winner, she’s just going to live in the moment with her acceptance speech. “I’m kind of a girl of whim,” she said.
And ironically, even though she wrote “Trust in You” after her grandfather passed away from cancer, she wasn’t a huge fan of it musically.
“It’s the most bubble gum on the record with a lot of Christian-ese language, but it ended up being the one that has brought the most healing to people,” she said. “The one thing I long for with my grandfather is the one thing that is carried out in this song. It’s definitely special to me. I’ve come around to it!”
And after Sunday, she just might love it forever.
The 59th annual Grammy Awards
8 p.m. Sunday on CBS. Pre-show begins at 3:30 p.m. at www.grammy.com/live.