I had the opportunity to meet Lauren when she was in New Orleans on the Winter Jam Tour. She’s got a lot of fans and family in Louisiana! Her debut year has been a whirlwind. Thankfully, we were able to squeeze in a phone call for this interview just weeks before she found out that her album went GOLD! We congratulate Lauren and recognize the blessings of the Lord!
CM: I know you are Louisiana-proud, just like I am. So let’s establish your Louisiana roots by getting a few questions out of the way… Gumbo or Etouffee?
Lauren: Oh, that depends on the roux, but I’ll say gumbo for now.
CM: Boudin or Sausage?
CM: Crawfish or Catfish?
CM: Crab or Shrimp?
Lauren: Ooo that’s hard! I’ll say crab for now.
CM: Praline or Peanut Brittle?
Lauren: Ooo my grandmother’s praline’s!
CM: Creole or Cajun?
Lauren: I’m straight down the middle. I love the creaminess of Creole, but I like the different spices of the Cajun – So I’m right down the middle.
CM: Bread pudding or King Cake?
Lauren: I have a friend that makes the best King Cake I’ve had in my life, so HER King Cake!
CM: Thanks! That was great! Tell us about your first exposure to leading worship.
Lauren: Well, it was kind of funny. I was thrown into it in a funny way. I used to sing ALL the time at home, and my mom went to our worship leader and said, “If you ever need anyone on your worship team, Lauren might be a candidate.” We were in a smaller church setting… and he was like, “Let me listen and see what she sounds like.” So we went to the back porch and he asked me to sing “Hosanna” by Brooke Frazer with Hillsong. I had never heard the song before and was like, “I don’t know if I can sing this!” So, I was singing really soft. He said, “Lauren, that’s not going to fool me. I’ve heard you laugh before! I know what you sound like. You need to just let loose!” I was so nervous. I didn’t know if I was singing right…I had never had any training or anything. So, I ended up singing it and he was like, “OK, you’re going to take the lead on that!” So, I joined the church choir and shortly after, I started leading worship each Sunday.
CM: Do you play an instrument?
Lauren: I do. I love the piano. I’m not a “savant” by any means, but I do tinker around on it.
CM: Would you play piano in a live setting?
Lauren: Absolutely! That’s my goal, to be able to.
CM: Did you have a mentor as you developed as a worship leader? Who did you learn from remotely…just watching their leading ministry?
Lauren: I was about 16 when I first started leading, and I remember Brooke Frazer from when I was a kid. I saw her name come up on the screen with one of the songs we were singing, so I was like, “I’m going to start listening to this as often as I can.” I found the Hillsong videos. It was so beautiful just watching the people respond to worship. I remember thinking just how rich the lyrics were and how my heart just longed for that. So, I watched Brooke Frazer and when I got a little bit older, I loved Kim Walker. Same thing, I was in college and a friend gave me a Jesus Culture DVD and I was like, “Oh my gosh! How have I never heard of this?” I just wanted to go deeper. I wanted to know more about worship. So, I just studied them for a little while.
CM: What were your plans in college? Tell us about LSU.
Lauren: My plan was music! I always knew…when I was little, God would give me like visions about leading worship and singing around the world. At one point I was like, “Is this real? Or is it ‘American Dreams?’” God started showing me, “This is what I have for you.” So, I kind of went into college thinking it was like the “holding time” until God completes the vision. You know, like He was just holding me here at college, so I’m just going to have fun! So, I took a bunch of classes…I love the ocean and marine biology, so I took an oceanography class…I love interior design, so I took a class in that…I was in the LSU Women’s Choir. I also did Child and Family Studies and that became my major because I wanted to start a non-profit organization for human trafficking victims, and you can do such a variety of things with that degree…medical missions and different things like that.
CM: Tell me about the American Idol experience. What did God teach you through it?
Lauren: Yeah! So, I was there for the first time when I was 17 years old. I was so young. Remember, I was 16 when I sang in public for the first time. I was really stepping out because my family and friends were encouraging me to do it. I ended up getting to the very end of Hollywood week…it’s called the “Green Mile” where you walk and sit with the judges right before the live shows to see if you make it. And, I got cut. I remember walking off really disappointed because I was like, “What is the thing that separated me from the others that made it through?” I asked Simon Cowell that and he wouldn’t tell me! I was like, “I’m asking you to be mean! I’m asking for constructive criticism!” He was like, “Oh, just come back next year.” I had tears in my eyes and my mom said, “You don’t have to live by man’s word. If the Lord tells you that you’re going to sing, just stay focused.” And I remember thinking, “OK, this is where my identity is formed. I have to know if I am going to trust what man says or am I going to get right back up and say, “Whatever You desire” to the Lord?” So, I went back to singing at home in Louisiana. I went back to LSU and leading worship and I went back to try American Idol again. I made it to Hollywood week. I remember singing in a mic and taking a deep breath right before one of the performances. I was like, “Lord, if You don’t meet me here then this is not worth it. I just want Your presence above all of this.” I remember realizing that this is what the Lord wanted me coming back to American Idol for. He just wanted me to see that my heart loves worship and loves Him and loves to be in that place. That was a very defining moment for me because, at the time, I never wanted to sing worship!
CM: When did you write your first song and how were you encouraged to continue writing?
Lauren: I wrote my very first song when I was about 11 years old. I was in my bedroom and my parents had already tucked me in. I got on my floor and wrote this song and I went out and told my mom and dad, “I have to show you something!” I stood on the fireplace bricks and sang this song to them. I remember thinking, “Oh this is so cool! I just performed in front of my family!” That was the first song, but I don’t remember at all what it was!! Then, as I kept growing, I just kept writing in my room all the time. I would say, there was this one song I wrote when I was like 17 or 18. We played it a year or so later for a church conference. Then, before I moved to Nashville, I remember my first co-write I was invited to up there. I was so nervous! But, it was such a sweet moment. At the end of the writing trip I said, “OK, this is it, I’m moving to Nashville and try this!” So, I dropped out of LSU, moved to Nashville and started writing for about a year and a half before we came out with the record.
CM: Do you prefer to write alone or co-write? Why?
Lauren: I’m right in the middle on that one. I love the constructiveness of writing with others. It’s very constructive…you can work off of the opinions that others give. It brings more thought to the table. I love that process. I think what I love about writing by myself is that I can really express what I want and not have to “play by the rules!” I guess I don’t prefer one over the other.
CM: From your perspective, how would you characterize the role of women in worship?
Lauren: Well, I think there is something sweet when a woman is able to get on stage and pour her heart out before Jesus. It’s symbolic of the woman who poured the oil on Jesus’ feet and wiped it up with her hair. I think in the bible you often see women that were kind, loving, and gentle…but then also these women that were fierce, bold, and brave. I love being able to take on those roles and lead worship…leading other women that might be discouraged or not know how to be bold or brave. It’s a sweet thing for a woman to get on stage and say, “I’ll be like Miriam and sing that triumphant song to the Lord,” or, “I’ll be like Esther and have a moment where I just trust God even when everything looks larger than me. But, know that it will lead me to a place of power and leadership.
CM: I love that my wife sings with me in leading worship. I know there are a lot of women readers in that same place of volunteering. What encouragement or advice would you give to women serving in that role right now?
Lauren: I have a lot of people that come to me each week talking about the nerves and the fear of singing in front of people…I started just considering how frequently people were coming up to me. Not only if they’re dealing with fear, but just in the sense of worship, I would say…get alone with the Lord, because it is the most important and crucial place to be from. The thing about being on stage and leading worship is it’s just an open memoire to what you do in private. So, basically you’re saying, “Alright Lord, I love you and I want to pour out my heart onto You. I want to adore You.” And you do that in private…or you intercede and say, “Lord, I want to worship on behalf of this situation before I even see the finish line.” You do that in private, but you can’t even come up on stage without having been in that place and just expect it to come out. So, I would say get alone with God and see what your worship language is with Him and then, in that place, you’ll be able to lead the best. People just want to go on the journey, so what a privilege it is just to take people there.
CM: You’ve gone from WinterJam tour to the Empires tour. With such a schedule, how are you staying grounded?
Lauren: Last year I traveled about 250 days. There is plethora of challenges that present themselves. The way time functions on the road is very different from the way time functions back home. You are constantly battling the difficulty of trying to find normality to keep up with the way you used to function, but it all changes. You come home and realize what you have missed in the lives of your loved ones. It makes you feel like you are always trying to play catch up. Once you embrace the change, your head clears a bit. The challenges of the road become profoundly less difficult.
CM: Is there a Scripture you keep coming back to?
Lauren: Proverbs 16:9 is my life verse. “Man may choose his path, but The Lord directs His steps.” This verse was introduced to me when I was undergoing an illness in my teens. I was home-bound for about 2 years. In that timeframe, God started giving me dreams and visions about music and the places He wanted to take me. Proverbs 16:9 reminds me that I don’t have to work in my own strength, but that His promises prevail in all seasons, through all paths. He will lay down the stepping stones when we can see the road ahead.