NEW YORK CITY (Christian Examiner) - A toe-tapping bluegrass gospel band that has the word "faith" in its name and claims Christ as its "passion" has survived the judge cuts on NBC's "America's Got Talent" and advanced to the program's final shows in New York City that begin next week.
Mountain Faith Band, based in Sylva, N.C., already had a solid following among bluegrass fans and churches when the nation discovered the group this summer on the popular show.
The five-piece band is fronted by 22-year-old Summer McMahan, who shed tears on stage after she finished performing on last week's program before a large studio audience.
"This is just my dream," she said when asked by judge Mel B why she was crying.
"I just want to assure you," Mel B responded, "that you're really, really good at what you do."
To win the program's $1 million prize, Mountain Faith Band will have to best some four dozen other acts in August and September, although the group likely already has exceeded the expectations of many.
The "about" section of Mountain Faith Band's Facebook page reads simply: "Bluegrass is our music, Christ is our passion!" The group's website includes bios from the members about their musical backgrounds and their faith.
The group last week had to survive a nerve-wracking moment on stage with two other acts – only one of which was advancing. When judge Howie Mandel said "Mountain Faith Band," the members appeared stunned.
"I was in shock," McMahan told The Sylva Herald. "We never expected to make the first audition, much less the middle round. And now we'll be playing in Radio City Music Hall in less than a month."
Summer is the lead singer and plays the fiddle. Other members are her brother Brayden McMahan (banjo) and her father Sam McMahan (bass), along with Corey Piatt (mandolin) and Luke Dotson (guitar).
The group has three CDs and sings both Christian and mainstream music. Among its gospel songs are ones with lyrics such as "To be absent with the body is to be present with the Lord" and "I'm on the battlefield for my Lord." Many of their performances are on YouTube.
For their America's Got Talent strategy, they chose to take popular mainstream songs and perform them bluegrass style, Brayden told the newspaper.
Their most recent performance was a high energy version of the rock song "I Believe In A Thing Called Love" by The Darkness. They previously gave a bluegrass rendition to One Republic's "Counting Stars."
"It was kind of expected they'd look down on bluegrass," Dotson told the newspaper. "Our goal was to change their opinion. Mission accomplished."
The group's unique background has also helped win over fans. The father, Sam, runs a tire shop and gas station with his brother, and the band members literally practice at the shop during the day, in between helping customers. Sam's bio states that he was "thankful to be raised in a Christian home" and "thankful for his Salvation and for the opportunities that God has allowed the band to have."
"He has passed that heritage and love for Christ on to his family," it reads.
Sam's wife Sandra encouraged the group to try out for America's Got Talent and submitted a video tape last year, which led to a phone call from the show.
Mountain Faith Band formerly was named the Southern Gospel Music Association's New Artist of the Year.
Learn more about the band here.