FeaturedInterviews

Winter Jam 2024: A Conversation With Rising Star Katy Nichole

The nation’s largest annual Christian music tour — Winter Jam — is set to bring its heavenly night of song and worship to the stage at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines this Friday, Feb. 2. 

The 2024 version of the Jam will feature headliner and crowd favorite Crowder, as well as hip-hop artist Lecrae; rockers Seventh Day Slumber; Cain; tour founders NewSong; and newcomer Katy Nichole.

Nichole made quite the splash into the industry in 2022 with the release of the monstrous single, “In Jesus Name (God of Possible),” which became an instant mainstay on Christian radio and went to No. 1 on the Hot Christian Songs chart. Her follow-up single, “God Is In This Story” with Big Daddy Weave, kept the momentum by topping the charts as well. The a 23-year-old added a GMA Dove Award in 2022 for New Artist of the Year, and since has added her third-straight No. 1 with “Hold On.”

And a star had been born.

Nichole took some time off recently to sit down with ListenIowa to talk about her rapid ascent to the top of the Christian music charts, her first foray into Winter Jam, and more.

So this is your first time on the Winter Jam tour.
Yes, my very first time.

You had to have been at least aware of the tour growing up, weren’t you? Maybe attend any as a spectator?
Actually not, which is crazy. My sister did once, I think when Francesca Battistelli was on the tour, which was a long time ago. I did know about it, but I didn’t really go to concerts when I was young. I can’t lie to you and say that being on Winter Jam was my dream come true. (laughs) But I am pumped, and so thankful that I get to be a part of something that’s been around so many years. I’m honored to be a part of something that’s a legacy.

If we were to see your playlist as a 12-year-old, what would it have looked like?
I was a big Toby Mac fan. I was just discussing this with my band the other day that I was a big Moriah Peters fan. Francesca Battistelli, Jamie Grace. It was definitely all over the place. 

So you didn’t listen to secular music at all then?
I actually grew up listening to secular music. My parents were very wanting for us to listen to things that were clean. I grew up in a pretty strict home. But I wouldn’t say that Christian music was the only thing I listened to. I watched “Veggie Tales,” and there was a Christian TV show called “Boz” that I was pretty into. I don’t know if anyone knows what that one is. (laughs) I think I will want my kids to do the same, to hear other things, but I also want them to listen to Christian music and love it and embrace it like I did.

Do you remember that point in your life, Katy, when you decided that Christian music was what you wanted to listen to, and more importantly, do?
I didn’t really figure that out until I was 18 years old. I was asked to come and be the special music for a church, and I was like, “I don’t do Christian songs, and I don’t know why you want me to come.” But I started leading worships, and then wrote a Christian song for the first time. I just had the feeling that the Lord had placed it on my heart to do so. I started having a relationship with God and made the choice to step into it because I felt it was something He wanted me to do. He was strongly leading me in the direction of Christian music and opening all the right doors for me to walk through. As I kept stepping into them, God blessed it, and I knew that’s where I needed to go.

Last February you released your first full-length album, “Jesus Changed My Life.” Your introduction to the world was on an EP prior to that, though, one that contained your first No. 1 song, “In Jesus Name,” that really got things going for you. Talk about that song and what it inevitably meant to your career.
I don’t think anyone thought it was going to be as big as it was. I think the song was kind of a phenomenon. It wasn’t anything anyone was planning or expecting. I had posted a little clip onto TikTok months prior to the actual release of the song and it went viral. Millions of people saw it. Enough for us to realize, hey, something is happening. It led to us releasing it way before anyone expected me to debut as an artist. I hadn’t released any music. But after that clip, the label was like, “Ok, let’s do this.” They were expecting me just to be an artist, but not necessarily a radio artist. I’m crazy blessed. I’m very thankful for what’s happened, and I give all the glory to Him. Without Him, none of this would have happened. He was so ever-present in the middle of this. It was a special song for me.

Tell me about your involvement in the songwriting, Katy.
I wrote most of my album sitting at a piano in my bedroom. “In Jesus Name (God of Possible)” was originally just called “God of Possible.” I was in a songwriting room with two other writers with that one. Actually, there are three others on it. Writing that song was interesting. Basically the only portion of that song we kept is what you hear as the chorus. That was the only thing that we took from the original. That’s what I had posted online. It was the bridge of another song, and I made it the chorus of “In Jesus Name.” That’s why “God of Possible” is in parentheses, because it was the original title. I let the Lord guide me in that. There are a million versions of that song. I was trying so hard to write that song each and every day. Eventually, I asked God, “What would you speak over me right now?” And it was, “I speak the name of Jesus over you,” which turned into the verses of the song. I tweaked and finished the song with a couple of other writers, and it eventually turned into what you hear now.

It’s amazing what something can start out as then morph into something else. Maybe someday in this album’s box set we’ll get to hear those demo versions of the song.  
Hmm. (laughs) I don’t think you want to. (laughs)

Now that you’ve gotten a taste of the music industry, is it what you thought it would be? More? Less?
I don’t necessarily think it’s what I thought it would be, but there were a lot of things that I expected. I think with anything that’s a job — it’s a job, so at the end of the day, I do a job. But I also get to follow my dream, so there are two aspects to it. You have to separate business from ministry and there’s a lot of just finding the balance of everything. For me, though, it’s just continuing to follow Jesus, no matter what, even if it’s in the business, or the job portion of this. It’s important that everything I do is glorifying to God, no matter what. I didn’t expect that aspect of it to be so challenging, but it’s definitely one worth fighting. You deal with a lot of different people in this industry, and because we’re all humans, we can become very jaded, and you have to constantly fight that in your heart.

Have there been any other artists along the way, Katy, that you reached out to for support or advice?
Toby Mac has been really inspirational to me in the way that he treats his people. He ministers to his people, too. He is a great leader. There’s a reason he’s been around for so long. He definitely has the heart to do this. He was called to it, and I think that is absolutely one of the most beautiful things to witness. I also have an incredible mentor in my life since I was 18, Josh Havens, the singer of The Afters. He has been a huge part of my life and one of the great inspirations in how he treats people. I feel like he and Toby Mac’s hearts are in line with one another. I got to be a witness to the way Josh would be a worship pastor at church, and then the way he would be “Josh Haven from The Afters.” Both of them are very consistent with one another. He is the same person off stage as he is on stage, and I think that’s very important that we don’t lose our sense of self, even when the lights are on us, and there’s applause. A lot of times I think people forget that we are doing this for Jesus, and they come and idolize us, which is something I want to pull people back on and be like, “No, Jesus did that.” I’m constantly reminding myself that I didn’t do this —  Jesus did. I didn’t allow for this to happen. I don’t have that kind of power in my hands. He did.

The obvious question: Have there been any Lauren Daigle comparisons?
(laughs) Not so much now. Maybe every once in awhile. Definitely in the beginning prior to me being myself as an artist. But I think it was just because I kind of look like her if you see me in the distance. I have brown hair and she does, too. (laughs) But I don’t think our voices sound like each other. Mine is kind of …. high pitched (laughs).

Coming back full circle then, Katy, what can audiences expect from you during your set at Winter Jam? 
It’s kind of a quick blip. I’ll be onstage for a total of 18 minutes, but hey, we’re going to fill a lot of that time, I promise you. We will not waste a single second. (laughs) It will be super fun and an experience filled with Jesus. We’re going to worship, we’re going to have fun, and we’re going to have a great time.

What: Winter Jam 2024
When: Feb. 2, 2024
Where: Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines
Tickets: $15