From Knock-backs To Front Stage

Gospel artist Monique McKen shares her journey to becoming crowned the BBC Gospel Singer of the Year 2021 and the headline artist for the recent BLAC Awards. 

Monique began singing alongside her siblings at the age of three but, like many PKs (pastors’ kids), the pull and excitement of the world drew Monique away from church. At the age of 16, not only had she left church, but she had left home too. 

Monique went from singing gospel to singing secular music overnight. By the time she reached her early 20s, she was in demand as a session singer. “From my teenage years to my late 20s, I got to record and perform with great artists, such as Michael Bolton, UB40, Beverley Knight, and Steel Pulse. I loved singing and being on the road. It was the most natural thing in the world to me, even though it was hard as a single parent.”

Although Monique was no longer in church, her ‘seed of faith’ continued to grow. Even at her lowest moments, Monique felt that God was ever-present. “I always knew my parents and grandparents were praying for me. If it weren’t for their prayers, I know I wouldn’t be here today.” 

Monique recalls the moment she planned to take her own life: “I had reached the deepest depths of depression, but God stopped me in my tracks and reminded me of what I had to live for. 

When you reach that low, you forget there are people who love you. In fact, the enemy tricks you into thinking they would all be better off without you, but God revealed that lie – just in the nick of time.”

That same night, she turned to God and asked Him for help. 

Monique continued to session-sing, whilst she attempted to rebuild her relationship with God. “I had a deep desire to continue singing, and it didn’t matter what I sang as long as I was on stage singing. I went as far as entering competitions, like X-Factor, The Voice, VH1’s Born to Diva and auditioning for roles in theatre – not because I wanted to be famous; I just wanted to sing.” 

Each rejection knocked Monique’s confidence and, in 2013, after her failed audition to be part of the cast for The Lion King, she vowed she would never enter another competition or audition for another show again. 

Monique began to focus her time on singing in church, and finally felt the fulfilment she’d been longing for. 

Then, in 2020, she received a message with a link to the trailer for the BBC Gospel Singer of The Year competition. Remembering her decision never to enter another competition, Monique dismissed the message but she couldn’t shake it from her mind. “I was in a different place spiritually, and although my desire and passion for singing were great, I had no intention of doing anything outside of God’s will for my life.” Not wanting to move without God’s endorsement, she put the decision in His hands through prayer. Two days before the closing date, she received a ‘Yes’ from God, and submitted her entry to the BBC. 

To Monique’s astonishment, at the age of 47, she was crowned the first-ever BBC Gospel Singer of The Year 2021 against strong competition. Her heart-stopping rendition of Lionel Richie’s classic, ‘Jesus is Love’, received rave reviews from judges Alexandra Burke, David Grant, and Heather Small, solidifying Monique’s status as a bonafide gospel artist. “After so many knock-backs it was hard to believe that I had actually won!”

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By Glen McKen 

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