Alternative CCM rockers Skillet formed in Memphis, Tennessee, around the nucleus of lead singer and bassist John Cooper, guitarist Ken Steorts, and drummer Trey McClurkin. Debuting in 1996 with a self-titled LP, the trio returned two years later with Hey You, I Love Your Soul. Invincible followed in early 2000, and the group contributed three tracks to the Ardent Worship: Skillet Live compilation that same year. With a new lineup of Cooper on bass and lead vocals, his wife Korey Cooper on guitar and keyboards, Ben Kasica on guitar, and Lori Peters on drums, Skillet released Alien Youth on Ardent Records in 2001, followed by Collide, also on Ardent, in 2003. The latter album was then picked up by Lava/Atlantic and reissued the following year with a bonus track. Collide went on to be the band’s best-selling album to date (even earning a Grammy nomination), and Skillet supported the record on tours with bands like Saliva and Shinedown. Skillet’s next effort for the label, Comatose, appeared in fall 2006, followed by Awake in 2009 and Rise in 2013. A compilation album, Vital Signs, was released in 2014 to introduce the band to European audiences. Skillet’s ninth album, Unleashed, followed in 2016 and was bolstered by a deluxe version, Unleashed Beyond, which arrived in late 2017 and featured five new songs, including “Breaking Free” with Lacey Sturm. ~ Jason Ankeny & Steve Leggett, Rovi
While there’s no sure route to carving out a significant presence in the music industry, there’s always something to be said for remaining true to one’s self. Since arriving on the scene with his 2004 debut Real Talk, Lecrae has been occupying two different yet not entirely opposing worlds: the sacred and the profane. Which is to say that his art, not unlike his life, has been as much about inspiring the streets, and about justice, freedom, and interrogating real-world issues, as it is about his personal journey of faith. His music has long served as a call to arms for those willing to sacrifice for a cause beyond themselves. Still, he won’t be boxed in to any genre or made to serve as a poster-child for any particular agenda.
Following a host of celebrated mixtapes and LP’s, his most recent being 2017’s exemplary All Things Work Together, Lecrae returns with new music. Let the Trap Say Amen , a collaboration with acclaimed producer Zaytoven (Gucci Mane, Migos, Future), was born out of a mutual respect for each other’s work. Joined by common faith and a love for the trap, and after years of maneuvering through some of the same circles, the two Atlanta legends decided to come together. The result is a project brimming with thunderous beats, rapid-fire bars, and, as listeners have come to expect from Lecrae, vivid storytelling.
Dallas-based international worship leader and CCM songwriter Kari Jobe ministered around the world for over a decade with various worship groups before settling down as the worship pastor at Southlake, Texas’ Gateway Church in 2006. Jobe released her debut, a set of inspirational songs co-written with Chris Tomlin, Ed Cash, Paul Baloche, Klaus Kuehn, and Mia Fieldes, on Columbia’s Integrity imprint in February 2009. The album was an immediate success, reaching number three on the Christian Albums chart and charting on Billboard’s Top 200 as well as netting her a pair of Dove Awards. Her similarly inspirational-inclined sophomore effort, Where I Find You, arrived in 2012 on Universal’s Sparrow Records imprint, this time topping the Christian chart and earning Jobe a Grammy nomination. A concert album called Majestic arrived in 2014 and featured new material recorded live at Dallas’ historic Majestic Theatre. A year later she issued Majestic Revisited, which featured alternate studio versions of many of the songs from Majestic. In 2017 Jobe issued her third studio album, Garden, which saw her working with producer Jeremy Edwardson (Jesus Culture, Hillsong United, Jon Foreman) and delivering a hopeful set conceived during a time of personal loss. ~ James Christopher Monger
With over 300 million video views, comedian and viral sensation John Crist is the next big thing in standup comedy. Whether you know him from viral videos like “Millenial International,” “Road Rage in the Church Parking Lot,” or BuzzFeed’s “Signs You Grew Up Christian,” Crist has solidified his comedic prowess with over 200 live shows a year, highlighted by recent television appearances on Live at Gotham and Laughs on Fox.
Nine years in, Crist has shared the stage with some of the best in the business, including Dave Chappelle, Jeff Foxworthy, Tim Hawkins, Seth Meyers, Trevor Noah, Dana Carvey, Adam Carolla, Chris D’Elia, Anjelah Johnson and Louie Anderson. Anderson, named one of Comedy Central’s Top 100 Comedians of All Time, says of Crist, “It’s only a matter of time until John Crist is a household name. He is so likable and his stand-up is top notch.” Tim Hawkins, who Crist has performed with over 100 times says, “This guy ain’t no opener. John Crist is the real deal.”
Named by ChurchLeaders.com as one of the “Top Five Comics to Watch,” Crist is no stranger to accolades. He was a finalist in Comedy Central’s Up Next Comedy Competition, a finalist in the Comedy Works New Faces Contest, and named to the Burbank Comedy Festival’s Best of the Fest. “The most meaningful award I’ve ever won?” Crist says, “When I was first starting out, I’d just go anywhere I could find an open mic. One time I did a show at a bar and the winner won a free appetizer. Best cheese sticks I’ve ever had.”
Crist has created and starred in several videos for BuzzFeed and has made several appearances on the Bob and Tom Show. He has been featured in Men’s Humor, Relevant Magazine, The Adam Carolla Show, Cracked, The Catalyst Conference, The Nerdist Network, TBN, The Daily Wire, Huffington Post, US Weekly, and USA Today. He was even once a voice actor on the popular children’s radio show Adventures in Odyssey.
Crist’s tour schedule keeps him busy, typically performing in churches, comedy clubs and theaters. “It wasn’t always like that,” Crist says. “One time when I was first starting out, I did an open mic at a Chili’s. It was traumatizing.” To date, one of the most unique shows Crist has ever performed was a comedy tour for the troops in Middle East. “It was surreal. It was just me and a tent full of soldiers at this military base on the border of Kuwait and Iraq. No mic, no stage, no nothing. I was standing on a wooden crate. It was probably 120 degrees in there. It was comedy in its purest form.”
When asked where he finds the inspiration to write jokes, Crist says, “Shoot, I grew up in Georgia. My dad is a pastor, and I was the third of eight homeschooled children. Coming from a background like that, how do you NOT write jokes?!”
“Write what you know” is the best piece of advice Crist ever received on standup comedy and the reason why the majority of his jokes are on the topic of Christian subculture. “In high school, my parents made me get a job at Chick-fil-A. How much more stereotypically Christian can you get?”
John currently lives in Los Angeles with his zero cats and is a member of Churchome.
Singer/guitarist David Crowder first stepped into the music industry when he realized that over half of the students at Baylor University, a Christian school that he attended in Waco, Texas, were not going to church. He began to actively recruit students for worship services and started writing songs to draw more young people in. He eventually started releasing the songs, leading to his debut album, 2002’s Can You Hear Us? The album was released under the name the David Crowder Band, as Crowder was joined by guitarists Jack Parker and Jason Solley, drummer Jeremy Bush, bassist Mike Dodson, and electric violinist Mike Hogan. Their sophomore effort, Illuminate, appeared in the fall of 2003 and was followed a year later by The Lime CD, which comprised two earlier live releases (The Green CD and The Yellow CD) that had been given out to fans who had either pre-ordered prior albums or attended various CD release parties.
Sunsets & Sushi appeared in early 2005 before the band’s next studio album, the bluegrass-tinged A Collision, was issued that fall. A spinoff of the latter album, entitled B Collision, came out a year later and focused even more on the group’s delvings into bluegrass. Remedy was released in 2007, followed by Church Music in 2009. A four-song EP, Summer Happiness, featuring acoustic versions of songs from Church Music, appeared in 2010. Arriving in 2012, Give Us Rest; Or, A Requiem Mass in C (The Happiest of All Keys) was the David Crowder Band’s sixth and final studio album. It was followed in 2014 by Crowder’s solo debut, Neon Steeple, which was released under the moniker Crowder. The album was a major success for Crowder, topping the Christian chart and reaching number nine on the Billboard Top 200 as well as earning a Grammy nomination for his song “Come as You Are.” He followed up in September 2016 with American Prodigal. ~ Bradley Torreano, Rovi
In late 2014, Sadie Robertson arrived at a crossroads. Fresh off a runner-up ate 2014, Sadie Robertson arrived at a crossroads. Fresh off a runner-up finish on Season 19 of ABC’s Dancing with the Stars, the then-17-year-old saw her life swirling into a bubble of fame and glitz and paparazzi; it was fun, yes, but also she recalls, a decidedly non-normal and uncomfortable existence. “People looked at me differently,” the Louisiana native first introduced to the world as a star of A&E’s Duck Dynasty, says. “I wasn’t sure I liked the fame. I don’t see myself like that.” A devoted woman of strong Christian faith, Robertson wanted to use this opportunity to make an impact on the world.
“My passion is to speak, to write, to encourage,” Robertson says proudly. And with more than 5 million followers on her various social platforms, the young woman saw she had a direct line of communication to her peers. Specifically, she recognized she could be positive voice to those in dire need of an inspiring, non-judgmental presence in their lives. Now, in only a few years, she’s become one of the most prominent voices of her generation. Whether as an author or motivational speaker, the 21-year-old speaks with profound grace and clarity. Last year, the author of the New York Times best-seller Live Original: How the Duck Commander Teen Keeps It Real and Stays True to Her Values embarked on a 16-city “Live Original Tour,” where she met thousands of teens and their families and spread her message of self-confidence and positivity. This fall, she’ll be back on the road for another sure-to-be inspiring tour.
U.S.-based English vocalist/drummer Jennifer Carole Ledger secured a life-changing role as the drummer of Christian hard rock outfit Skillet when she was still a teenager. After a decade with the band, she took her first steps as a solo artist with her debut EP, Ledger. Born in Coventry, England in 1989, Ledger moved to Wisconsin at 16. In addition to her high school studies, she also drummed with the band at her local church, which is where she was discovered by Skillet’s husband-and-wife duo John and Korey Cooper. With the then-recent departure of their drummer Lori Peters, the Coopers encouraged Ledger to audition for the spot, which she got in 2008. From the church stage to arenas, Ledger’s first outing with Skillet was on their Comatose Tour. Over the following decade, Ledger and the band released and toured behind Awake (2009), Rise (2013), and Unleashed (2016). In addition to her work behind the drum kit, Ledger also contributed vocals to each album with increased frequency. Under the guidance of the Coopers, she began to form ideas for a solo project as early as 2012. That music wouldn’t be fully realized until 2018 with the release of her first effort, Ledger (Atlantic/Hear It Loud). Produced with Korey Cooper, the defiant set of pop-influenced rock anthems was elevated by Ledger’s vocals, a stirring blend similar to Lacey Sturm, Cassadee Pope, and Hayley Williams. The set debuted just outside Billboard’s Top 50, rising as high as number two on the Christian chart and number seven on the overall Rock ranking. To promote the EP, Ledger pulled double duty on the road, opening for (and later playing with) Skillet on their joy.UNLEASHED 2018 tour. ~ Neil Z. Yeung, Rovi
Zach Williams wears many hats from husband and father to church staff and worship leader.
Most recently he can add recording artist to the list. Zach is no novice to the music industry. He had spent a majority of his life traveling with various bands. It was while on the road that the Lord grabbed a hold of him and he decided to leave the rock star life behind.
After that, Zach transitioned in to a position at the Refuge Campus of Central Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Arkansas in which he still serves. It came as a shock when the opportunity to sign with Provident Label Group as a new Christian artist arose. Never in his wildest dreams did Zach Williams think that he would be in this place of writing and recording music in the Christian music industry, especially from years of hard living on the road while in a rock & roll band.
His personal testimony of receiving freedom in the Lord is so beautifully reflected in his debut single “Chain Breaker”. The song came from a place of wanting to reach people who had been struggling and it undoubtedly has. Over the course of it’s release in the summer of 2016, an influx of stories have been shared on his various social media pages by people who have experienced the life changing power of broken chains.
Born Holly Marie Miller in Waverly, Ohio in 1997, Hollyn got her big break in 2013 as a contestant on season 12 of American Idol. A talented vocalist and singer/songwriter who cites pop, R&B, and Christian music as her main influences, Hollyn made it to the Hollywood rounds before exiting, and before long she was earning a name for herself in the CCM world. In early 2015, she appeared on the single “Backseat Driver” from TobyMac’s Grammy Award-winning LP This Is a Not a Test, and later that year issued her eponymous debut EP, which featured the hit single “Alone.” The EP went on to hit the Billboard Christian Top Ten. Behind the charting singles “Can’t Live Without You” and “Love with Your Life,” and with guests including TobyMac and Andy Mineo, her first full-length, One-Way Conversations, reached number six on the Christian albums chart in early 2017. ~ James Christopher Monger
A worship leader and a CCM singer with a decidedly mainstream rock bent — he often seems to be channeling elements of Coldplay and U2 into his inspirational rock — Cody Carnes first started making music as part of the Dallas-based Gateway Worship before he headed out as a duet act with his wife, Kari Jobe. He started his solo career in 2017.
Carnes first started playing music as a child, and headed his first worship service as a teenager. Throughout his teens and early adulthood he played with a number of bands, including Hit the Ground Running and Crimson Soul. He later became part of Gateway Church, which led him to a key role in the associated band Gateway Worship. There, he met his eventual wife, Kari Jobe. The pair frequently co-wrote songs together, including “Let the Heavens Open” on her acclaimed album Majestic. Carnes and Jobe released an EP called All He Says I Am in 2014. They married that year, relocated to Nashville, and had a son in 2016.
Carnes signed with Capitol CMG in February 2017, releasing “The Cross Has the Final Word” shortly afterward. By May, Newsboys reunited to record their own version of “The Cross Has the Final Word,” and by the end of the summer Carnes also released the singles “Hold It All,” “Til the End of Time,” and “What Freedom Feels Like.” His full-length solo debut, The Darker the Night/The Brighter the Morning, appeared in September 2017. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine