NFL National Anthem Singer & Christian Artist Leah Shafer Interview!

Josh Bechler Writer for Rocking God's HouseOn January 19th almost every year at the same time I tend to watch the NFL championship games — both AFC and NFC. This year was not stellar for my Tennessee Titans, so I did not have a dog in the hunt; however, as an avid fan of the sport, I always watch the playoffs all the way to the coveted Super Bowl. This year’s AFC Championship match-up promised to be a gunslinger’s parade as Peyton Manning found himself once again facing Tom Brady — arguably the two best quarterbacks in recent decades. (And it was a much better game than the Superbowl!) The table was set, the Broncos and Patriots were getting ready to rumble, and as we gathered in our seats it was time for one of my favorite parts of any football game: the singing of our national anthem. This year’s performer was an amazing songstress by the name of Leah Shafer. She sang with such calm and ease that she made a very challenging song look easy. She did more than a terrific job, and I was so impressed that during kickoff I was figuring out in my mind how I could contact her for an interview. I learned through her website at that she had been singing in churches since she was 13 years old and that she:

  • was chosen as “Best Alto” in high school for the California All-State Choir
  • toured internationally as the main soloist of The Young Americans
  • has recorded six studio albums — which you can preview and purchase here — and has been a concert headliner as a member of the group “Six Chix”
  • is a three-time winner on PAX-TV’s “Destination Stardom”
  • was featured as a house singer on NBC’s “The Singing Bee”

Despite all of these earthly achievements, according to Leah, “Her love and dedication is to the Lord,” as she loves performing in intimate church settings before live congregations.

lshafer2Rocking God’s House: How did you prepare to sing the anthem at the AFC championship game; were you nervous?

Leah: First of all, I was honored and pleasantly surprised that the NFL selected me to sing at such a high profile game — not because I’m not confident in my gift of voice, but I’m really a “no name” artist when I’m compared to people like Shania Twain, Natalie Cole or Katherine McPhee from Idol. I thought for sure they would want STAR POWER over me, but I have learned that when God wants to place you somewhere, He will! It’s refreshing to be appreciated for talent over being a celebrity. I never got the BIG BREAK! I’ve worked really hard in my profession for 30 years. I keep up my voice, and I eat clean and take pride in my appearance. Three days before the AFC game, I caught a cold that my daughter was getting over. I was losing my voice. I drank tons of water, took oil of oregano (which works every time) and rested. The morning of the AFC game, I had to lead worship with Nick Carleton at Cherry Hills Community Church at both services. Went great! I had to be at church at 7:00am for sound check and literally jammed out of there once worship was over to make it to the stadium by 12:00 noon. Being on-time and professional is huge to me.

I arrived early to the stadium and got ready in the cheerleader’s locker room. I went into hair and makeup and was in focus mode. I didn’t speak the entire time until showtime — just resting my vocals.

1:00 was showtime.

I knelt on the sidelines, thanking God, remembering who brought me here. I thought, Leah, don’t mess up, this is your chance and everyone judges the anthem so harshly at times. I have to say, once I started singing, my nerves calmed. I sang the song in 1:17 like the network wanted, I sang it respectfully and traditionally, not making it about me and showing off, but really feeling what the song meant.

Rocking God’s House: Do you prefer to perform at churches?

Leah: I will perform wherever if it feels right. I pursued the country market for awhile, but was told I was too old. I was only 31 at the time. I have worked for major networks like NBC, country shows, and I worked with three different corporate bands on weekends to make a living. But I do love singing at church, knowing that people are there because they are searching for more of meaning and purpose. I always pray that my music moves them in a way that makes them realize how much they are loved by the Lord. I also have a heart for women’s conferences and prison ministry. The only issue I run into often is in ministry everyone expects you to give your time freely, which is wonderful, but it doesn’t pay the bills. This is my profession, so whenever churches or any kind of ministry honors my time, it’s a blessing. Most of the time, I’ll just sell my CDs and that helps.

Rocking God’s House: Are you touring right now?

Leah: I am not officially touring because I have a seven-year-old little girl. If I had the opportunity to work with top labels and had a tour laid out that had a solid direction and purpose, that would be different. I would take her with me. It’s beautiful when my daughter see’s that Mommy is doing God’s work. Right now I sing at Cherry Hills Church. I am a guest artist at many other churches, and I am a regular singing on Praise the Lord with TBN. Singing the national anthem at the AFC championship has also been a huge blessing.

Rocking God’s House: What made you decide to adopt? Are you an advocate for adoption?

Leah: This is a sensitive subject because our situation was truly a miracle. We didn’t apply to adopt or seek to adopt. We found out that we couldn’t have children of our own when I was 31. At the time, I was singing and working at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church. I had been singing there since I was 20. I gave up the thought of being a mother. I thought God loved me but not enough to be a mom. I thought because I made so many poor choices growing up I wasn’t worthy, but that was the enemy’s lie! Because three months later, I got a phone call from a dear friend saying, “I have a daughter for you, she’s due in two months, she is bi-racial, and the birth mother described her ideal mother, which is YOU.” Well, two months later I pulled my beautiful daughter out, cut the cord, and was the only mother to hold her and bond with her. She is my angel, my miracle, and it was God showing me how much He did love me. From that moment forward, I wanted to fully commit to pursuing Christian music.

Rocking God’s House: Tell us about your new album?

Leah: I have six CDs and in the first three it’s obvious I was confused as to what kind of artist I wanted to be. In country, I’m too old, in pop I’m not sexy or skinny enough, and in Christian I’m too pretty and need to tone it down. I was all over the place. But when my daughter was born, I dedicated my music to honor the Lord and selected each song to have a message of some sort. My latest CD called You’re My Everything truly represents my heart for worship, my life, my personality, and my passions. I have the sound of a country artist, but I am a unique sound to the CCM world. My dream would be to meet up with great song writers and produce an amazing CD, get more radio play, and for the Lord to really open up bigger doors in ministry. And if I do secular venues, that’s great too; God will always be honored.

Rocking God’s House: You won Star Search three times! How did you do that?

Leah: I was working in a job that I despised. I am not a 9-5 gal. I get bored easily and felt I was wasting my talents spending 50 hours a week in an office. I had a friend who knew the producer of Star Search. I took the day off at work and auditioned. I made it. I told my boss that I was selected for this huge talent show and had to go to Hawaii for it. She was supportive, but little did we all know I would go all the way to the finals. So I lost my job. Singing was everything to me. But I’ll never forget when the producer was prepping me for my LIVE interview and told me not to mention my relationship with God! That won’t get me votes! I agreed, but when it came time, I did it anyway. He was not happy with me, but I will never choose Hollywood over God! No way! I tried living my life my way and it doesn’t work! [laughs]

I was offered to join the Real Housewives of Orange County show when it first came out. It was tempting I must say. I thought, “This is my break — trash TV! I can be a light, not get caught up in the drama and expose my voice to the world through my music” Then Rick and Kay Warren lovingly said, “Leah, you are too classy for a show like that. It will ruin everything you’ve worked hard for. Your reputation will be shot and you will lose respect from the Christian music industry!” Needless to say, I turned it down. It’s maddening at times seeing these women get famous for nothing — who get record deals and they can’t even sing. But I remind myself what my own journey is, and that’s the path of Christ.

I’ve been married 12 years to a wonderful man. He is a motivational speaker, five-time Emmy-winning talk show host, and best-selling business author. We are 20 years apart, but age doesn’t matter to me. He is my biggest support and best friend. We moved here to Colorado three years ago to get away from the riff raff of LA and Orange Country. We wanted to raise our daughter in a calmer environment that isn’t based on how you look or who you need to sleep with to get ahead. I want her to know God is always first, then family and yourself and your career. Moving here was the best move ever so far. We do miss the water, so we try and visit Southern California as much as possible.