Mandisa, who died April 18, was a ray of light on ‘American Idol’ season 5

The cause of death is not yet known

Mandisa Hundley, a gospel singer who made the top 10 during the most popular season of “American Idol,” died at her Nashville home Thursday at age 47.

A representative confirmed her death but said a cause has not been determined.

Simon Cowell, the infamous “Idol” judge, made some mocking jokes out of earshot about her weight after her audition. She later saw his comments when they aired on Fox. She later forgave him on camera.

In the end, Mandisa finished No. 9 on the show the year Taylor Hicks won and later carved out a successful career in Christian contemporary music. She released six studio albums, won a Grammy and generated multiple top 10 hits, including “Stronger” and “Overcomer.”

Mandisa visited Atlanta numerous times for concerts. Kevin Avery, morning host at Fish 104.7 for the past 24 years, said he admired her raw authenticity.

“She loved God, she loved people, and she was transparent about her struggles,” Avery said. “She talked about her weight, her confidence issues, her depression. She didn’t candy coat it. You can hear it in her songs, especially ‘Overcomer.’”

“We had a caller today who said ‘Overcomer’ literally saved her life,” Avery added.

Kevin Avery and Taylor Scott of Fish 104.7 pose with Mandisa in an undated photo. CONTRIBUTED


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In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2017, she said “Overcomer” was about her best friend and back-up singer Kisha Mitchell battling breast cancer. But Kisha, pregnant with her second child, didn’t overcome and died.

This setback set Mandisa back into a dark place. She began eating compulsively again and hiding from friends and family for about three years. After losing more than 120 pounds a few years earlier, she regained those pounds and 75 more during her depression.

When Kisha died, “I was angry at God. I know how much my song ‘Overcomer’ has inspired people, but it didn’t help the person I wrote it for. It’s just not the way the story was supposed to end. That ushered me into this season of darkness.”

In her grief, she opted for her comfort zone: food. For three years, she stopped singing. She didn’t record music. She watched copious amounts of TV. “Anything to escape what was happening in my life,” she said.

She avoided calls and texts. When people stopped by to check on her, she’d put on earplugs and pretend she wasn’t home. She even had thoughts of taking her own life.

Her friends finally convinced Mandisa to go into counseling. “I look back, and I have no idea what could have happened to me if they hadn’t pursued me so hard,” she said. “Their message was, ‘We love you just the way you are. We love you too much to leave you this way.’ "

The therapy helped Mandisa face her grief head on, as well as various childhood and weight issues. “I felt hopeless at the time,” she said. “It was the first glimpse of hope I might be able to do this tomorrow. I couldn’t imagine my life a year from now, that I could be where I am today.”

She got back into the recording studio and created the album “Out of the Dark.”

Mandisa opened the record with some saved voicemail messages she received from friends and family, leading into “I’m Still Here.” That message: “My heart is still beating. My lungs are still breathing. God wasn’t done with me yet.”