With the 2008 release of her Fervent/Word/Curb debut, "My Paper Heart," Francesca Battistelli quickly established herself as one of Christian music's most successful new artists. She scored four hit singles, including "I'm Letting Go"; was named the female vocalist of the year at the 2010 Dove Awards; and has sold 414,000 albums, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Since then, her songs have been heard on such shows as NBC's "The Biggest Loser," Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance" and MTV's "The Hills." Battistelli also picked up four more Dove nominations this year: artist and female vocalist of the year plus song and pop/contemporary song of the year for another "Heart" hit, "Beautiful, Beautiful." And her March 1 sophomore set, "Hundred More Years," has already yielded a top 10 single with "This Is the Stuff."
Video: Francesca Battistelli, "This Is the Stuff"
Battistelli admits the success of her debut album caused some nervousness over her next project. "I was pregnant for most of the recording process and touring heavily," the New York native says. "Then my husband and I moved from Nashville to Atlanta in the middle of making this record. There came a point when I said, 'I believe in these songs and I've got to just trust that other people are going to like them.' "
Judging by the first single, she needn't worry. "This Is the Stuff" holds at No. 6 on Billboard's Christian Songs chart. Battistelli co-wrote the song about everyday annoyances with her producer Ian Eskelin and Tony Wood. "I lose my phone all the time," she says with a laugh. "Everyone has frustrations that drive us crazy . . . This song says there are worse things out there; that God uses these things to draw us closer to him."
Scott Smith, music director/afternoon personality for the K-LOVE Christian Radio Network, says the song resonates with listeners. "She puts it in a light that makes us laugh and realize that in the grand scheme of things God has got everything under control," he says.
Christian KCMS Seattle music director Sarah Taylor credits Battistelli's appeal to her "crystal clear vocals and great pop sound. Speaking from a female perspective, we sometimes view other females as our competition. We're worried that we're not good enough . . . Because she's honest in her songwriting and presentation, Francesca takes that threat level away."
Battistelli performed "Hundred More Years" in its entirety along with her earlier hits at Nashville's Belcourt Theater on March 1. Though technical issues derailed a live stream, the concert aired March 3 on FrancescaMusic.com and will remain on the site for a week. Fans have also heard previews of the new album during Battistelli's set on the 47-city, multi-artist Winter Jam tour that kicked off on Jan. 7 and wraps April 3 in Peoria, Ill.
"Francesca possesses a remarkable combination of being able to write undeniably charming songs, deliver them with a distinctive voice and bring sheer authenticity to each performance," Word president/CEO Rod Riley says. "Her unique ability to draw on her faith and subtly convey how it influences her everyday life is appealing and accessible to Christian music fans and beyond."
Battistelli's growing popularity is also one of the forces behind the re-emergence of Christian female artists. As Smith notes, Christian radio is often a tough obstacle for women.
"Research shows that over the last several years, female artists haven't seemed to connect with our Christian music audience in the same way guys like Chris Tomlin, Jeremy Camp and TobyMac have," Smith says. "Now we're starting to see-with Amy Grant's resurgence and a handful of artists like Francesca, JJ Heller and other new artists like Lindsay McCaul, Mandisa and Laura Story-a rebirth of Christian female artists."