Dove Awards bring message of Christianity to Atlanta

When Francesca Battistelli was handed her first Dove Award of the night, the one for female vocalist of the year, the 25-year-old Atlanta transplant could barely sputter a response.

“This is amazing. I don’t know what to say. Thank you to the Lord. He’s the reason we’re all here. Thank you guys for supporting Christian music,” she said and then slightly hoisted the trophy. “Yay!”

So it was no surprise that when the burgeoning princess of contemporary Christian music scored the prestigious artist of the year Dove – with some help from fan voting – she was equally astounded.

“I know fans voted in this category, so thank you, everyone who voted for me. I’m speechless,” Battistelli, clad in a sparkly dress purchased earlier in the day at Nordstrom, said.

The singer, who lives outside of Canton, was the greatest victor among Georgia’s Dove Awards nominees, bringing home three awards out of four nominations. Point of Grace and Jason Crabb matched her trio of wins.

Also at the 42nd Annual GMA Dove Awards, which was taped Wednesday at the Fox Theatre and will air at 7 p.m. Sunday on GMC, Third Day’s “Move” scored for recorded music packaging; Casting Crowns’ “Until the Whole World Hears ... Live,” won long form music video of the year; and Chris Tomlin shared in the special event album of the year award for “Passion: Awakening.”

The show’s ringleader, Sherri Shepherd, co-host of "The View," flew solo for the first time as an awards show host. This was also the inaugural Atlanta appearance for the Doves, which had been held in Tennessee for the past 41 years.

"For me, I'm about fun," said Shepherd, who said she looked forward to being able to praise God as much as she wants without getting bleeped. "I love the Lord. I truly, truly love the Lord and I love following Him."

At times, though, it seemed as if another comedienne and author, Chonda Pierce, was part of a hosting duo. Pierce had the audience in stitches with her combination of Southern charm and quick wit.

Still, Shepherd held her own, at least during the first part of the show, which drew the likes of Kirk Franklin, Marvin Sapp, Kim Fields, Kenny Rogers and Sandi Patty.

Shepherd is a huge gospel and Christian music fan, listing among her favorites TobyMac, Franklin and Mary Mary.

"I'm trying to get them to let me duet with somebody," she said in an earlier interview. "If I could I would put on a choir robe and sneak in."

And with whom would she most like to share the stage?

"It could be Mary Mary and Sherri," she joked. "They could honor me and make me a third sister. And I love Kirk Franklin. I remember you could be in the club dropping it like it's hot and then ‘Stomp’ would come on."

She also likes Natalie Grant for very personal reasons. Shepherd’s son was born prematurely and nearly died. "Held," Grant's hit, "Got me through it,” Shepherd said. "'Held' renewed my faith. Music can renew your faith and uplift you more than words can. This music has gotten me through some stuff. I can't believe God is so good.”

Among the highlights to look for on Sunday’s telecast:

Chris Tomlin, the lead worshipper at Passion City Church in Atlanta, performs a rousing introduction to the show with “God is Greater.”

The collection of female vocalist nominees, including Atlanta’s Laura Story, Battistelli, Grant and Audrey Assad, sing a stirring tribute to Sandi Patty, who told reporters backstage that she’s lost 75 pounds. At the show, she’s seated next to former “American Idol” hopeful Mandisa, now a stunning 120 pounds lighter than when she sang on “Idol.”

Third Day is joined by Steven Curtis Chapman and Matt Hall from Casting Crowns for an emotional rendition of “Children of God.” Chapman and his wife, Mary Beth, advocates for orphan care and adoption, are presented with the Uplift Someone award for their ministry, Show Hope.

Atlanta resident Kenny Rogers, who said backstage that he loves the acoustics at the Fox Theatre but joked that, “the parking kind of sucks,” performs “The Rock of Your Love” with Point of Grace.

NFL stars and Christian music fans Greg Jennings (Green Bay Packers) and Tim Tebow (Denver Broncos) appear as presenters. Tebow told reporters that while he wasn’t quite star struck meeting some of his musical heroes, “It’s definitely inspiring.”

TV preview

"42nd Annual GMA Dove Awards"

7 p.m. Sunday, GMC

Also this weekend:

At 5 p.m. Saturday, Six Flags Over Georgia hosts a Christian music concert featuring Phil Stacey, Matthew West, Adam Cappa and Jeremy Camp. The show is free with park admission. Six Flags is offering buy one, get one free park admission tickets. Information: 770-948-9290