A Seattle singing group is becoming a breeding ground for "American Idol" as the Total Experience Gospel Choir tours the world with a diverse group of singers.
The choir was founded nearly 40 years ago by Pat Wright. She's now getting a boost of notoriety as three of her singers, including the recently contested Sanjaya, have made it to the Fox TV show.
But Wright is much more than an arbiter of TV show success. She has put together a mixed-race choir with people of all ages and demographics who may not typically be found in a gospel group. But she helps them find a voice.
"I'd like to think that if you have a teaspoonful of talent, that I can find a cupful inside of you," she said. "I really, really want these kinds to go to their greatest good, and somehow it just pays off that way."
The group now tours the world and goes beyond religious circles to work with musicians including Dave Matthews, and to Hollywood to make an appearance on the soundtrack to the movie "Because of Winn-Dixie."
"I never wanted to be one of those choirs where you just go from church to church to church to sing," she said. "I wanted to conquer the world with what we did."
Off the Stage and Into People's Lives
Wright is also a pastor and the founder of the Oneness Christian Center, a storefront church ministering to what she calls "the underdogs" of Seattle as she welcomes those struggling with poverty and addiction.
"The idea behind being a church is to be a place of refuge for people who are hurting from all the things that causes them pain, that causes some kind of disruption in their lives," Wright said.
When a member of the congregation's family was temporarily trapped by Hurricane Katrina, Wright's church and choir raised more than $250,000 for the people of Mississippi and Louisiana.
She then made three pilgrimages to FEMA encampments on the Gulf Coast, including one as recently as last week.
"They said to us, 'We love what you're doing. We love you coming down, helping us out. But come again, because what you've brought us is a spiritual gift," she said. "Come again and just sing to us."
Wright wants to make life better for others, despite the size of their problem, "whether it's a natural disaster or a disaster in your life," she said.