For BeBe Winans and Mary Mary, it was no easy task cutting 1,500 aspiring gospel singers down to 20.
About 3,000 people crowded BET Headquarters in D.C. on Saturday for the first round of auditions for “Sunday Best,” the gospel talent search hosted by Kirk Franklin. Only 1,500 singers actually got to audition for the cable network’s staff.
Ninety-eight of those singers made it to callbacks the next day, where they sang for judges BeBe Winans and Mary Mary (composed of members Erica and Tina Campbell).
The judges’ differing opinions meant that the first few callbacks did not make it through. Jermaine Blanding from the Bronx was the first unanimous ‘yes’ of the day.
Jermaine and his family had arrived in D.C. at 3 a.m. Saturday morning and didn’t leave until nearly 7 p.m. that night. It was well worth the wait when the judges agreed to send him on to the next round of auditions. He had a little swagger in his step as he came to tell his family the long-awaited news.
"Those are gospel legends up there," Jermaine (right) told S2S. "They’re already where I am trying to be, so for them to say yes—I was ecstatic."
BeBe, Erica and Tina had no problem passing on many of the singers. They were tough, but they kept it real with the contestants who they thought just didn’t have exactly what it takes to win.
"I think part of the misconception is that it has to be nice/fluffy because they’re singing gospel music," Erica said. "If you’re not good, you’re just not good. I don’t have to say ‘you’re not good’ in Jesus’ name."
"I’m sure Jesus is looking at their heart, but Jesus ain’t gonna give them no record deal," Tina said.
BeBe told Courtney Simons (below), who came from Chesapeake, Virginia, that she had a "church choir voice," meaning that it was a good voice but it just didn’t stand out.
"What I want to give — and what I think people want to hear — is honesty," BeBe told us. "I do unjustice if I don’t give the criticism that is needed for that person to get better."
That was the end of very emotional day for Courtney, who was auditioning not only to pursue her dream, but in honor of her family. She told S2S that ever since her grandparents were brutally murdered, her family just hadn’t been same. She hoped that winning "Sunday Best" would bring everyone back together.
Courtney told us she’s doubtful she will audition again next season.
There was happier news for Yanna Crawley of D.C., who came ready to sing. She spent the time before her audition warming up with other contestants and singing to BET cameras, which filmed the contestants as they waited in line.
Yanna delivered the goods when she got before the judges, wowing them with her rendition of "His Eye Is on the Sparrow." Tina was so impressed that she jokingly asked if Yanna would come sing at her church.
From her performance, you never would have known Yanna was wrestling nerves (and gas) through her audition. She told us it was nerve-wracking to perform in front of Mary Mary, who is her favorite act, but she was able to pull through because of her faith.
"I know that this is what I’m supposed to be doing,” Yanna said. “This is the way that God is calling me. And I know that I have a song in my heart that will reach people."
You can check out more amazing voices and stories when "Sunday Best" premieres on March 8 at 9 p.m. on BET.
– Sonya Eskridge
Judge photo by Mannie Garcia/courtesy BET