Leaf Newman may be the first contestant in reality TV history to send up a prayer for the opposition. It happened earlier this year on BET's "Welcome to Dreamland," where she competed against several Atlanta-based female vocalists to win a major-label recording contract. When another contestant began to fret over losing her voice on one episode, Leaf took it upon herself to bow her head, close her eyes and speak healing words in Jesus' name.
If anybody needed God's favor, though, it was Leaf. After an impromptu audition earned her a spot on the show, she found herself surrounded by straight-up, R&B-slinging sistas while she had nothing but an acoustic guitar and her folksy brand of soul to ward them off. But Leaf never worried about whether she belonged.
"The whole time I was on the show, I never felt like it was a competition," says the California native. "I want everyone to do well and grow and be the best that they can, because I believe that there's room for everybody."
That same sense of idealism guided the artist with the whimsical, winged voice to write a song titled "Grow" in honor of Spelman College student Jasmine Lynn, who was killed by a stray bullet on the AUC campus in September. Yet, the singer/songwriter – whose self-released '08 EP, Leaf Cool Eclectic, wraps uplifting lyrics around jazzy acoustic grooves and rock-inspired licks – felt words were not enough. "So I got the idea to start a fundraiser event," says Leaf. On Dec. 9, she will perform along with Arrested Development and show host Rickey Smiley at a tribute in honor of Lynn.
"When I heard about what happened to her on the news, I was just deeply hurt and touched by the situation and I wanted to do something," she says. The funds raised will benefit three nonprofit organizations (Keep the Faith Ministries, ACTODAY Foundation, iNetwork Foundation) with youth initiative programs, says Leaf, who organized the tribute after securing permission from Lynn's parents.
Meanwhile, Leaf, who emerged as the winner of the "Dreamland" competition, is in negotiations with a major label to release new material in 2010. But don't expect her to compromise her voice for the industry's sake. "I'm definitely still the same Leaf," she says.