As a student at Eastern Senior High School, Y’Anna Crawley sang background vocals for Aretha Franklin and Anita Baker. Music flows through Y’Anna’s blood. She is the great-niece of acclaimed gospel singer Reverend Julius Cheeks, and the niece of gospel singer Genobia Jeter and R&B singer Glenn Jones. On BET’s “Sunday Best,” she moved the audience out of their seats each week with her soulful, gospel performances. It was no surprise when Y’Anna was announced as the winner of BET’s Sunday Best competition. She’s more than just a gospel singer, she is a woman who has endured a number of challenges — such as having her first child at age 17 and moving away from a number of unhealthy relationships. Her challenges and triumphs are channeled into what has become her debut CD, “The Promise.” ESSENCE.COM: What type of pressure did you receive working around the gospel legends on BET’s Sunday Best? Y’ANNA CRAWLEY: I was nervous. Being in front of Mary Mary, Kirk Franklin, and BeBe Winans presented some nervous feelings for me. There was a time when they gave me a Mary Mary song to sing. I was a bit nervous about performing the piece, but I just got up and moved beyond the fear and sung the song. ESSENCE.COM: What can fans expect from your debut CD? CRAWLEY: Fans can expect to hear a variety of contemporary gospel music. I wanted to give the listeners every part of me. I’m not a traditional gospel artist; I want my music to crossover into the secular realm. I was very strategic in choosing the music featured on “The Promise.” I wanted music that could take fans through a variety of emotions. I want fans to be able to sing, laugh, cry and dance. ESSENCE.COM: Why do you want your music to cross into the secular realm? CRAWLEY: I have a long run with singing secular music. I sang background and toured with Mya. I want people who might never step foot into the church to hear my music and become encouraged. Maybe someone has been hurt by the church and decided to leave, that person might find their way back through my music. I am most passionate about music that inspires and uplifts. ESSENCE.COM: Explain the message behind the song, “Stronger.” CRAWLEY: It’s a reflection of my teenage years. Everything I went through that didn’t kill me made me stronger. At seventeen I thought I was grown and slipped up and got pregnant. Some people called it a mistake. But I knew that GOD would bring me a blessing even though people thought my pregnancy was a mistake. Good or bad, I knew GOD would see me through. The song speaks about that experience. ESSENCE.COM: Similar to Mary J. Blige, you embody the music in your spirit to such a degree that fans feel as if they have heard a moving sermon after listening to your performance. Where does the ability to connect with people on such an emotional level come from? CRAWLEY: When I get up on stage, I try to bring every feeling I feel to the song so the audience can feel what I felt in that moment. ESSENCE.COM: On an episode of BET’s Sunday Best, you revealed to America “I was searching for love in all the wrong places.” Can you explain what you meant? CRAWLEY: My dad wasn’t the dad I thought he should be. I wanted to be daddy’s little girl. Because I wasn’t daddy’s little girl, I searched for love in the direction of unworthy men. Searching for love lead me to have my first child because I thought if I had a child, I would receive the love I was craving. ESSENCE.COM: When women have fathers who are absent, do you think that they look for father figures in the men they date? CRAWLEY: Yes, because dads are supposed to be there to hold their daughters. Dads are supposed to tell their daughters how special they are. In my case, I didn’t get any of that from my dad. So I was looking for a man to tell me “you’re beautiful.” It leads to many broken hearts and crazy relationships. My father was present, but he was emotionally unavailable. ESSENCE.COM: How does a person searching for love in all the wrong places begin to know love that is healthy? CRAWLEY: For me, I got tired of being sad. I got tired of being disappointed and let down. I wanted to be happy within myself. I started looking in a mirror and learning how to love who GOD made me, flaws included. I found love, once I found out who I was. ESSENCE.COM: What if a woman finds it hard to look in the mirror at self? CRAWLEY: Start talking to GOD more. Have a friendship with him. Start developing a relationship with GOD. He will reveal to you that some of your insecurities are okay. It’s hard at first. I didn’t even like my voice. Back in the day I would sing with my eyes shut. That’s why Sunday’s Best is so important. I had to just deliver and I did not have time to rest inside my insecurities. Get alone with GOD. ESSENCE.COM: Are you in love right now? CRAWLEY: No. Actually, I’m in love with my children and me. ESSENCE.COM: Please offer some words to Fantasia? CRAWLEY: I’ve been praying for her. I want to let Fantasia know, whatever she is going through, if she looks to heaven for help, she will be okay. If she goes back to her spirituality, it will make her stronger. Call me, sister. Some sisters just need others sisters to help them. ESSENCE.COM: Tell us about your Promise Foundation. CRAWLEY: The Promise Foundation is for women to receive services that will empower them as women. It’s a place where they can be uplifted and encouraged. I was a hair and make-up artist, so we will have beauty workshops. We will also have scholarships for young ladies wanting to go to school. It’s all in the works. ESSENCE.COM: The debut CD is creating a buzz in the industry. How are people back home responding to all the blessings bestowed upon you? CRAWLEY: They are very excited. They are calling me the DMV queen. The DC, VIRGINA, MARYLAND Queen. Everyone is very supportive. ESSENCE.COM: If GOD were to speak to you right now in this moment of your life, what would he say to you? CRAWLEY: Y’Anna, you have done well. There are still some areas I know you are not confident about, but just trust in me and I’m going to see them through.