Talent Pool—Nikki Leonti
It's the stuff teen dreams are made of. Veteran producers Dino and John Elefante offer a talented young girl from a musical family a recording contract and the opportunity to tour with established artists Sierra and Greg Long.
Even so, when the offer fell into 16-year-old Nikki Leonti's lap, it took her half a year to accept. She and her parents spent time praying before making any decisions.
Then, four months ago, Leonti packed her bags and climbed aboard a tour bus.
"Before I went on tour I was so excited," says the Corona, Calif. native. "Then I got on a tour bus with 17 people. It's not as glamorous as I thought it would be. It's a cool bus, but when you get 17 people on it, it becomes less cool."
But she's thrilled with the success of her current single, "It'll be Alright." The song made it to No. 4 on the Christian charts, and her debut CD, Shelter Me, hit No. 179 on Billboard's Top 200 album chart. The CD blends a mixture of musical styles, from ballads like "Love One Another," sung with John Elefante, to the poppy "It Will Come to You" to the more acoustic bent of "Shoelaces."
Leonti, who cites Crystal Lewis and CeCe Winans as major influences, says the mix appeals to teens and college-age kids, as well as people from her parents’ generation. But, she adds, she isn't interested in record sales. "Jesus is the only reason I'm doing this."
Leonti is no stranger to music. About three years ago, she won a community talent contest, which allowed her to record a demo on a small label owned by one of the contest judges. The recording made its way to the Elefantes, who liked Leonti's sound but felt the then 13-year-old singer was too young to sign. Keeping their eyes and ears on the performer, the Elefantes got their hands on a five-song demo she made two years later, and they were off to hear her play live in her hometown. They offered her a contract the next day.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Despite touring demands and the tight confines of tour bus life, Leonti says she enjoys being on the road and sharing her testimony. "I lost my brother to cancer the same year my dad was diagnosed." Thankfully, she says, her dad is doing great. But many people she's met aren't so fortunate.
"It's rewarding to sit and pray with someone about what they're going through," she says. Success hasn't spoiled the California girl, but she suggests, "I do feel I have to live up to a certain standard. A lot of kids are looking up to me. I see that, and I don't take it lightly."