*The first 10 of 20 contestants on BET’s Idol-styled Gospel singing contest, “Sunday Best” came out like winners during the first week of competition.

The judges mainly lauded their performances only offering minimal corrective advice.

With the exception of Nigerian singer Fumni Oduyemi whose nervousness was apparent vocally, the other nine contestants came off as confident and semi-professional as they sang selections by Donnie McClurkin and Yolanda Adams.

This season’s top 20 vocalists were chosen from auditions in Nigeria, Philadelphia, Detroit and New Orleans and are vying for the title in New Orleans. They are:

Bethany Devine – Little Rock, AR
Brian Smith – Chicago, IL
Brittney J. Dear – Madison, MS
David E. Wilford – Millsboro, DL
Davon Fleming – Baltimore, MD
Dathan Thigpen – Ridgeland, MS
Durward Davis – Tulsa, OK
Fumni Oduyemi – Lagos, Nigeria
Franklin Davis, IV – New Orleans, LA
Goldwire McLendon – Philadelphia, PA
Jonte Thomas – New Orleans, LA
Lamesha “Mesie” Augustine – Indianapolis, IN
Leandria Johnson – Orlando, FL
Martha Buries – Houston, TX
Orlando Wright – Cincinnati, OH
Quiana Pettigrew – Cleveland, OH
Robert Hatcher – Brooklyn, NY
Tawanna Tarvin – Monroe, LA
Tiffany Carlin-Laird – Baton Rouge, LA
Vernell Payton – New Orleans, LA

The show is hosted by Kirk Franklin. Kim Burrell is this season’s vocal coach. The judges are renowned gospel artists Donnie McClurkin and Mary Mary (Erica and Tina Campbell). Yolanda Adams is sitting in for Erica Campbell who recently gave birth to her second child.

Voting will begin on the next airing after the second group of 10 performs.

“Sunday Best” airs Sundays on BET at 8 PM ET/PT .


I know it’s too soon to forecast the winner of “Sunday Best,” however, based on the outcome from the first show, if I was going to purchase a gospel CD it would be Leandria Johnson’s (Orlando, FL). And if I was in need of a spiritual breakthrough, I would listen to Elder Goldwire McClendon (Philadelphia, PA) all day long. These two contestants epitomize great gospel singing; they delivered God-centered messages with power. They both possess the “feel-it” factor, which is essential to ministering in song.

Bro. McClendon, at 80 is the oldest competitor and sounds like he’s been singing all the days of his life! Can I get a witness? As the final contestant of the evening, McClendon, a tender tenor who has traces of the Philadelphia sound all over his voice, didn’t get the words right in the first stanza of Yolanda Adams’ The Battle Is Not Yours” and it didn’t even matter. He confidently ad-libbed the words as if they were written exactly as he sang them, lulling the Holy Spirit out of every note. After Bro. McClendon, as they say in the church, came “in his own way” for the first time in the 3-year run of “Sunday Best,” the judges – Donnie McClurkin and Yolanda Adams and some audiences members – caught the Holy Ghost. Garnering that type of response, Tina Campbell speaking for the other verklempt judges predicted the Elder would remain in the competition until the end.

Leandria Johnson sang “He Kept Me In the Midst of It All” by Yolanda Adams. Having just lost her home to foreclosure a day before, she auditioned at the New Orleans Superdome wearing jeans, socks and flip flops. I interviewed her when I was in New Orleans as a preliminary judge and asked her to sing. People who were in town for another event ran out of a room begging her to sing again. Touch your neighbor and say, “Flip flop girl is a beast!” (In the words of a Facebook observer.) Her performance was the most believable.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t give props to 3 others: Durward Davis (Tulsa, OK), Franklin Davis, IV (New Orleans, LA) and Tawanna Tarvin (Monroe, LA). Style and substance, plus the ability to minister a song made them memorable as well.

In closing, I’m expecting to be on the edge of my seat throughout this season of “Sunday Best.”