Mary, Nicole and Lillie: Two Women and An Alabaster Box


In the Bible, Luke 7 tells the story of a woman with a questionable past.  And a strong desire to be in the presence of Jesus, her saviour.

And once in His presence, she washed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair.  Then, she broke the wax seal on an alabaster box, that she treasured, and poured the contents upon His feet.  According to scripture, the fragrance of the oil filled the room, affecting everyone with its pleasant scent.

Alabaster box CECE

In 1999, gospel singer CeCe Winans recorded a CD entitled Alabaster Box.  The title song, written by Dr. Janice Sjostrand, tells the story of Mary of Bethany…and the alabaster box she poured her faith and love into.

Last week, the music competition television show, X Factor, debuted for the new fall season.  Among the contestants was a woman named Lillie McCloud.  She confidently walked on stage carrying her microphone stand.  There she stood, on the X, in a skin-tight leather jumpsuit, knee-hi boots with her Chaka Khan head full of hair.  She told the four judges her name.  And she also shared her age when asked – “54”.  There was an audible gasp in the entire theatre.  She does not look like her age…she looks at least 15-20 years younger.

Lillie McCloud

As with all contestants, she was asked what she had prepared to sing.  The song she chose to sing?

Alabaster Box.

Now, most people would not be familiar with the song unless they were listening to gospel or Christian radio 13 years ago.  But for those who were, there might have been a moment of “Huh?”.  Like a lot of people, I made a judgement based upon Lillie’s appearance.  I expected her to sing a Beyoncé, Mariah or Whitney song.  That’s what a lot of female contestants go to in these types of shows.  So it surprised me she chose this song, a song of faith, instead of a song of funk.

Then, the time had come for Lillie to sing the words.  And like the alabaster box, she broke the seal and poured the emotion of the song all over the audience.  It was apparent within the first 5 seconds – Lillie is a true vocalist.  By the time she ended the song, several of the judges were crying, as were many in the audience.

And within hours, a clip of Lillie’s performance hit the Internet. Millions of people became familiar with the song and the singer.  And, even hours later, many people were also introduced to the name Nicole McCloud.

Who is Nicole McCloud?

Nicole is the name Lillie used back in the 80’s and 90’s when she recorded a few dance tunes.  She struck Top 10 chart success on the dance charts in each of the last three decades.  And she, Nicole, has worked with musical superstars such as Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder.


But now, after her appearance on X Factor, like Mary of Bethany, Lillie is being judged for her past.  What sin did she commit?  Well the court of public opinion has convicted her of lying about her history and deceiving the producers of The X Factor, as well as the viewing audience.

So what’s the truth?  Did she lie or deceive anyone about her past?  The answer is no.  The producers of the show knew about her past.  Like Mary of Bethany, she had nothing to hide.  But, while she had a recording contract, appeared on shows around the world and sang with other artists, she never achieved the success of a Donna Summer or Gloria Gaynor.  And she gave all of it up to raise three children.

Like Mary of Bethany, she has discovered a savior and decided to express and demonstrate her faith in a very public and contemporary way.  Many have judgemental thoughts about this woman who has decided to offer praise despite her past.  And many have vocalized their objections.  On Twitter, Facebook, and other social media, fans of X have expressed their thoughts that her previous “success” in the industry is unfair.  And insisted the show is about a chance at stardom for unknown, undiscovered amateur singers.


Any observation of shows such as X Factor or American Idol or The Voice should reveal something very important in this discussion.  The producers don’t really want someone who’s only been singing in their shower or car.  They want someone with talent, artistry, and stage presence, in this case referred to as the “X” factor.  It would be bad business for a show and a record label to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in someone who doesn’t have good breath control or is unable to capture the attention of an audience, whether visually or vocally.

The music business is tough.  The dream of becoming a famous singer can quickly turn into a nightmare.  The lives of singers look glamorous but it’s long hours and hard work.  It’s hard on the voice….and the body in general.  There are people around you who appear to be in your corner but their own corner is what’s more important.  And if your last album doesn’t meet sales expectations, your label can drop you – which, hopefully, you were aware of this possibility if you read the contract before signing it.

Let’s not forget…it’s show business.  What looks like reality (TV) is sometimes nothing but an illusion.  Situations and conversations can be staged.  And crafty editing can create a perception that does not truly exist.

What IS real is that Lillie, or Nicole or whatever name you choose to call her, has a voice.  And she knows how to use her voice to convey an emotion.  And she has stage presence.  And she’s approaching the music business with a new direction and a renewed faith.  If she makes it to the end of the competition, she will probably be better prepared for what lies ahead than someone who’s never sang with a 4 piece band, never done studio vocals and never sang in a blinding spotlight in front of thousands of people.

Instead of condemning Lillie for her past, instead of judging her looks or actions, shouldn’t we just admire how well she has aged, her decision to focus on family instead of fame, and her determination to achieve success – on her own terms?

For more details about the backlash, click here.


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