Christian music star Francesca Battistelli embraces success

Christian singer Francesca Battistelli breathes a sigh of relief, plopping down on her sofa at home for the first time in months after finishing up a 47-city concert tour. "I'm very grateful for a little time off," she said. "It's always bittersweet when a tour ends. It was a wonderful experience. But I'm glad to be home now. I haven't seen my house in a while."

This year has been the most successful and busiest of Battistelli's life. She and husband/band leader Matthew Goodwin juggled being parents to their baby boy while on the road for three months as one of the headliners for the Winter Jam tour.

Battistelli's second major label album, "Hundred More Years," reached No. 1 on Billboard's Top Christian Albums chart last month. Battistelli won artist of the year at the 42nd annual Dove Awards held in Atlanta last month. She also went home with two more awards -- best female vocalist and pop-contemporary recorded song.

The singer said she feels gratified by the acclaim for her latest album after overcoming the fear of having a sophomore slump.

"I wondered if people were going to like it," she said. "But it was like a stamp of approval when your peers and others from the industry say I've done a great job."

Battistelli quickly became noticeable in the Christian music scene with her debut album, "My Paper Heart," which has sold more than 410,000 copies. Last year, she ended Natalie Grant's four-year reign as the Dove's female vocalist of the year.

Some of Battistelli's songs from her debut album were featured on several television shows such as ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" and NBC's "The Biggest Loser."

Battistelli said her message of faith and elation of life, meshed with her piano-pop melody and country vocals, contributed to her music being heard beyond the Christian realm. She said she's longed to produce Christian music for those who may never listen to Christian radio or step into a religious bookstore.

"They could find my music and it could bless them," she said. "From the beginning, I wanted to write songs that encourage people. I don't like music that makes me sad or angry. So I've always just been drawn toward songs that will uplift people."

Producer Ian Eskelin said what makes Battistelli special is her vocal range as a singer. He said she's able to effortlessly bounce from jazz to rock to R&B -- a trait he said is not easy for most.

"All I really needed to do is let the music get out of the way and let her voice do the talking," said Eskelin, who produced Battistelli's first two albums.

Battistelli started her music career with the all-girl pop group Bella. Shortly after the group broke up, she discovered her passion for Christian music through her youth group and developed her writing skills as a theater, music and English major at the University of Central Florida.

While in college, Battistelli released an independent record "Just a Breath," which she sarcastically calls a forgettable album.

"Let's hope we don't have to listen to it, ever," she quipped. "But it was a great experience. I wrote every song by myself. I had a hand in producing it. I really got my feet wet in the studio."

Since then, Battistelli has grown much more as an artist and most recently as a woman. She said she's in a "different place," watching the bond of her marriage strengthen with her husband, and the maturation of her son, who is seven months old and now learning how to crawl.

Battistelli said her husband took much of the pressure off her while touring. She leaned on Goodwin's experiences of traveling for many years with his father's group NewSong as a band member.

Goodwin also played drums for Battistelli, helped her with administrative duties such as handling her slew of emails, and managed her concert setup.

"It's a hard lifestyle, but to him it was normal," she said. "To just partner together with his knowledge of the road was very helpful. I don't think I would've survived through the tour without him."

Goodwin knew his efforts were needed.

"It's just making decisions on things I know she would want," says Goodwin, who married Battistelli in 2009. "I'm more connected with her vision of where her music goes. Now, she's never alone."

For Battistelli, this is the life she's always wanted.

"If I can keep doing this for as long as I can, that would be awesome," she said. "Getting to travel and do what I love with my family is more than what I could've dreamed of. I would love to just keep doing it."