Nichole Nordeman

Nichole Nordeman grew up in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in a well-to-do home, playing the piano in church, going to a Christian school. But when her parents divorced when Nichole was 18, things changed dramatically. She felt her family was at the receiving end of pointing fingers from those who hated the sin of divorce so much they couldn't see the desperate needs of a family being ripped apart.

Still, every Sunday morning, she was there, behind the piano, "stumbling through my spiritual questions." She'd lead the church in worship materials, then sing a few songs she'd written. "That was my only outlet, like reading a journal entry in front of 400 people." Consequently, her album -- if not everything about her life -- is "bare bones of Christianity, not the shiny, polished Christianity."

The minister of music at her Colorado church forwarded a brochure about a contest sponsored by the Gospel Music Association's Academy of Gospel Music Arts. She almost didn't enter because, as a waitress, the $200 weekend registration fee was steep. She borrowed the money and sent in her entry. She was selected to compete in the Los Angeles area contest, where the Vice President of Star Song records, John Mays first noticed her. She won that event and began talking with Star Song about a record deal. "I think John sensed my cautiousness. We both moved slowly and just began a dialogue.''

That's where producer Mark Hammond came in. Nichole wrote lyrics for all 10 songs and got co-writing help from Hammond on music for five of them. While many of her songs feature strong piano instrumentation -- her instrument of choice, Hammond's influence "encouraged her to explore other musical directions as well." Lyrically, she writes with such a depth that sometimes "I analyze everything until it's disfigured."