Melissa Lawson is “Ready to Stand”

Melissa Lawson is “Ready to Stand”

by Suzette Banzo

For so many of us the responsibility of redefining beauty to include all shapes and sizes has become a mission. While so much of the focus has been on embracing our curves, Melissa Lawson reminds us that embracing your age and your aspirations are equally important. As a mother of five boys, a wife, an artist, Melissa has been able to focus on the needs of her family and find the courage to go for her dreams in an industry that equates new talent with youth.

Well-rounded women go beyond curvy. They are women who are grounded by depth of experience, who are empowered by those they love, and who are ageless, fearless, and inspiring. Melissa Lawson is “Ready to Stand” and ready to show the world what a well-rounded woman is capable of accomplishing.

Suzette:  Let’s start with a few generic questions; how did you get started singing, and what lured you to Country music?

Melissa: I started singing at church when I was little, and participated in school talent shows, pageant talent shows etc. By the time I was 13, I knew I wanted to sing Country music. I grew up on Statler Brothers, Oak Ridge Boys, and Barry Manilow.  From the ages of 13-19, I sang on the “Opry” circuit in all over Texas.  I really enjoyed singing with the live bands. What drew me to Country music?

I think because it gave me a sense of home. Anytime I was at one of the Opry’s I always felt appreciated and like I was with family.

Suzette: Was there an artist that influenced you or served as a role model?

Melissa: During my teenage years, it was Reba, Pam Tillis, Trisha Yearwood, Patty Loveless. The list could go on and on. I also had a “pop” side to me that loved Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, and Mariah Carey.  I think loving so many styles of music and different artists gives me a unique sound. There is really no type of music I don’t like!

Suzette: When I listen to you sing I hear a quality similar to Trisha Yearwood. Does your hubby see himself as Garth? (Just kidding)

Melissa: (Laughs) I have been told that often along with Wynonna too. I am not out to sound like anyone except myself.  However, I do  take that as a HUGE compliment. I think she (Trisha) is one of the best vocalists in country music of all time. (Laughing) As for my husband seeing himself as Garth, that’s too funny!  He met Garth once; they grew up in the same town, Stillwater Oklahoma. I hope I’ll get the chance to meet them one day. I think they are great people.

Suzette: There is richness in your tone, one of a grown, grounded woman that makes it so appealing.  What type of country do you sing? Traditional, neo-traditional, folk influenced, pop-country or some other style?

Melissa: It’s definitely mainstream country music with a pop edge, but with the “roots” like steel guitar etc, which I think is important. Many new country artists out there lose the sense of where we have come from in order to be able to crossover to other genres of music.

Suzette: I saw video of you playing the guitar, is it safe to assume you also write your own music. Can you tell me about what inspires your lyrics?

Melissa: I do write my own music, but I do not limit myself. There are many gifted writers out there and I like to take advantage of that. I have been blessed to write with many of them since the show. As far as inspiration in my own writing, man, I’m inspired by almost anything about life itself! My five boys, my husband of 13 years, and friends are a huge inspiration to me. My sons are Maverick (10), Harlan (9), Zaden (6), Xander(4) and Ryker (2).  This life the Lord has blessed me with, the ups and down and roller coaster rides make for great material.

When I did the show Nashville Star, we sang cover tunes, which was fine with me since writing was new to me.  When it was time for originals week, I was VERY nervous. I worried about what people would think. I wrote the song “Ready to Stand” with my friend Margi. We started to write it after my audition, and completed the first verse about my journey trying to chase this music career.  Margi and I subsequently got together and finished it. The crowd loved it, and it has been one of my most requested songs ever since.

Suzette:  Yes, I can see why! “Ready to Stand” is what they call a feel good song.  Let’s talk a little more about the journey for a moment; where you following your dream while married and before the kids? Did becoming a wife and mom sidetrack your career? Please fill us in.

Melissa: I was, as I like to call it “chasing music” when I met my husband. He is a jazz pianist and we shared the love of music so he totally got me “going for it”. When we got married, we even postponed out honeymoon so that I could open for Tracy Byrd. Then we started having kids. It was really no biggie, until after baby #3; I auditioned for American Idol (season 4) and made it to the top 75.  They edited the audition and only showed Simon Cowell saying, “You look like an elephant” and flashing my face on the screen. I was devastated. I decided that church was the only place that I would accept me as I was, and I found peace and contentment there until I was pregnant with my fifth son. I gained up to 300lbs and I was very unhappy with myself. I could not even play with the kids the way I wanted to.

I decided to take charge and do something about it and told Rick that I was going to spend a year losing weight and another year going for Country music, and if I didn’t get anywhere, then God just didn’t have it in the cards for me. The auditions for Nashville Star came about two months into that two-year plan. I had lost about 25lbs by the first audition, and as the show progressed, I continued to lose more. I eventually hit the 100 lb weight loss mark. I still have some more to go to feel as healthy as I want to be, but it’s a lifestyle, not a diet for me.

Suzette: OH MY! Simon can be so crass!

Melissa: I know. I actually love him. I agree with him almost 100% of the time, he just has a way of saying things. Additionally, it’s all about the editing and what ends up on the cutting room floor, because in real life that’s not how the experience went.

Suzette:  The sad truth is that there seems to be little to no room in the industry for plus sized women. All music genres experience the same type of discrimination and yet we have a number of thin women with weak voices on the top of the charts!

Melissa:  Oh gosh! Now you’re getting to something I am passionate about! Not to take anything away from those artists, but there are MANY beautiful, talented people who never even get the chance to share their gifts on a national level due to their size. Honestly, I think it’s very disheartening.  This industry is about making money. Ultimately, sex sells. I get that. Nevertheless, there is NOTHING wrong with a strong, confident, sexy plus sized woman.

We are all over the place, at your office, your church, your neighborhood, etc. That is the world we live in, and as a mother of five boys, it disgusts me. I want my boys to have morals, and know what a “real” woman is, no matter her size. I want them to know that anything is possible for them in life, and for them to think that the “only” talented beautiful women out there have to be a certain size is tainting to their little eyes and heads. I want them to know that size is irrelevant. It’s about Christ within us.

Suzette: I am sure that your boys will in fact feel that way since they have you and your husband teaching them that. I think a confident woman at any size is the role model that is necessary and unfortunately lacking in most homes.  What did you do to lose 100 lbs?

Melissa: I agree! I lost weight when I finally decided to stop dieting. From there I took baby steps, I first gave up soda. (I was drinking about 6 – 32oz glasses a day) Limited sweets, then I made some other changes. I slowly switched to whole grains for bread, pasta, and rice, and now I even limit that. I eat a lot of fruit, veggies, nuts, lean meats, eggs etc. and most importantly, I started working out. At 300lbs, I could barely make it to the mailbox, so I started just walking 5 minutes, and then upped it to 10, then 15 etc, until I got to an hour a day, five times a week. I do strength training 2-3 of those days. I workout at home or the playground, that way my kids play while I do what I need to do. I am finishing writing a book about it that will be a great resource for mothers.  We all know what’s bad for us, we just don’t want to hear it, so instead we stuff our faces with it. It makes us feel horrible and sluggish.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being plus sized, it’s who I am.  I will never be small, even at a “goal weight” but I DO want to be healthy.

Heart disease and other bad things run within my family, and I want to be around for my kids. That is what prompted it. I encourage everyone to be healthy. Did you know that losing just 10% of your body weight can decrease your chances at heart disease? That’s not a whole lot to save your life. This is not about looks for me; I am comfortable in my skin. It is about being as healthy and strong as possible so I can live the best life God has given me.

Suzette: What kind of exercises did you start to do when you transitioned from walking? Did you work with a trainer?

Melissa: Yes, I do. However, my schedule is crazy, so when I am unable to fit a session in or for people who say, “I can’t afford that”, I use the “buddy system”. I have a handful of friends that go walking together. Women love to talk, so we just add the walking part in and keep each other motivated.  As far as exercises, I started with using my own body weight by doing wall push-ups, squats, crunches, etc; it is the best resistance you can find. In addition, I went to the half price bookstore and found some workout DVD’s. I get bored quickly and I like change, so I just picked up some videos that looked interesting and tried them out. I really like “Turbo Jam” once I got the moves down. The balance ball, a resistance band, and maybe a set of lightweights, like a 3lb or 5lb are really all you need. You don’t need anything fancy!  I’ve really learned to love exercise. Honestly, I can’t even believe I am saying that! I am even running now! Ultimately, I want to complete a mini triathlon just to show myself I can do it!

Suzette: Let’s go back to your music and talk about your album. What happened to the album that should have been released subsequent to the show?

Melissa:  The album is a long story. When I won the show, I was awarded a record deal. At least I thought I was. After nine months of waiting and recording four amazing songs, the label decided not to continue with the project. I was really bummed at first, but I see the blessing now. Ultimately, you want a record label that believes in you and what you have to offer to the world. They did not. So now, we are looking for investors or another label to pick up and complete the project. I own the masters to those four songs and I’m eager to get it out to the five million people that voted for me! We hope to release it this summer simultaneously with a new show where our family is involved.

Suzette: I noticed on Facebook that you wrote something about a “worship” album; did you work on a Gospel record as well?

Melissa: I lead worship at different churches (more contemporary Christian with a Gospel/Country flair) so we recorded a worship album to have something for the congregations to take home when I am leading. I have a real heart for leading others into worship and women’s ministry.

Suzette: Then the worship album is a personal project?

Melissa: Yes, the worship album is a personal project, and then the “mainstream country” album will be an independent release (if we can get investors) or if another label picks it up, then we will have distribution through them. I guess you can say we are looking for distribution or another label to pick it up to go nationwide, BUT at least both will be available on itunes.

Suzette: NBC’s website seemed to focus on how you were “the oldest contestant” on the show.  Some would consider this a “late start”.

Melissa: Yes, they liked to point out how “old’ I am. It is sad to be old at 33 isn’t’ it? I don’t think that it is EVER too late to chase after your dreams. There are seasons in life; marriage, kids, career, etc. Sometimes we can multi-task and do it all and other times you have to step back and focus on one area at a time. It is all about growth, and the journey.

Some people say I was an overnight success story, but I say that overnight was about 24 years, not 24 hours! I have received so many emails and messages about mothers that went back to school, or changed jobs, or are having the courage to pursue their passion because they saw that if I could do it with 5 boys, a husband, and 100 extra pounds in tow, then they could do it too! I think so many mothers feel worn out, in a rut and have given up. I was in that place for a long time, and at some point, I realized I was doing the kids an injustice by not living my dream. They need to see that it’s ok to make sacrifices for what you want in life. I feel blessed that God is using my life to help inspire others. Listen to the voice within you…that is God telling you to go for it! It’s how he designed us, to have the desires of our hearts.