Koryn Hawthorne’s debut studio album, Unstoppable, arrived at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Gospel Albums chart dated July 28. Simultaneously, the artist’s first single “Won’t He Do It” was No. 1 on three other charts: Hot Gospel Songs, Gospel Airplay and Gospel Digital Song Sales. It marked the first time since 2013 that a woman topped four gospel charts during the same week (Tamela Mann pulled off the feat in May 2013).
Shortly after 20-year-old Hawthorne’s roll to the finals on season 8 of NBC’s The Voice, where she competed for Team Pharrell Williams, Hawthorne signed to RCA Inspiration based in Nashville, which is headed up by label president Phil Thornton.
“As a label executive, you look for artists that will have long-lasting careers and headliner potential,” Thornton said of signing Hawthorne. “I recognized Koryn’s potential the first time she performed on The Voice. Koryn finds meaning and depth and soulfulness in a song unlike any artist from this generation.”
In the midst of a run of tour-dates, Hawthorne took time to speak to Billboard during a concert stop in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Congrats on the success of your debut single “Won’t He Do It.” Did you have any idea when you released it that it would get so much traction?
When I first recorded the track, it was for the Greenleaf soundtrack for season 2. I honestly had no idea that it would go past just being included on the soundtrack. But yes, I did think it was a natural choice for my first single.
Your debut album, Unstoppable, which was released on July 13, debuted at No. 1 on Top Gospel Albums. As a first album, were you pleased with the finished product?
We did the album pretty fast. I think it was three or four weeks from start to finish. I know a lot of artists take much more time recording, and that will probably happen to me as well on future projects, but I’m the kind of person that works really well under pressure, because I actually don’t stress with pressure. I instinctively knew when we had the finished product on each song. I feel like God put me here for this purpose, so I am simply following his lead. When you have that resolve, you just know when something’s good.
There are 10 songs on the record. Did you write a good amount of the material? Also, there’s one track, “Speak the Name,” featuring contemporary Christian music artist Natalie Grant. Were you a fan of her music previously?
Yes and yes. I wrote seven of the 10 tracks on this album and am essentially writing all the time. As for Natalie, I am a huge fan and just love her voice. I was really excited to record with her and love how the song came out.
Will there be more collaborations with various artists who might have inspired you down the road?
Yes, for sure. I love so many different styles of music and artists that I am totally open to what comes my way.
Would you record a full-on pop record?
For right now I am exactly where I need to be, hence the name of the album, Unstoppable. God has me here. The music has a higher purpose and I cannot be deterred.
What about your time on The Voice. Did that experience prepare you for everything happening right now?
It did, absolutely, but also, I have been singing in front of people my whole life. I am very comfortable performing for big crowds.
Was it Pharrell who suggested that you perform a worship track like “How Great Thou Art,” which you did on The Voice? Clearly you knocked it out, as it debuted at No. 1 on Hot Gospel Songs.
He did suggest that we do a gospel song. He knew that I was comfortable with it, since I was born and raised with gospel music. I love classic hymns like “How Great Thou Art,” and it’s exciting to bring it to an audience of millions of people.
I heard that you had auditioned previously for American Idol and one of the producers told you that you wouldn’t go far. Is that true?
Yup. She was referring to me attempting worship music on the show, and she basically said not to even try, that it would eat me up. She used those exact words.
A lot of record labels pursued you after your appearance on The Voice. Why did you decide to go with RCA Inspiration?
That is true that I talked to quite a few executives from different companies, but once I met Phil [Thornton] at RCA, I knew that we were a match. He has this infectious personality and we’re both really high-energy. I just know that this is precisely where God wants me.
What’s next for you?
I’m 20 years old. I think I have lots of time, but I’m focused on my mission to do all that I can.