Hillsong's Taya Smith on Elf, Nicky Minaj & Worship Music

Taya Smith is the lone woman in a band full of men, as the lead female vocalist for Hillsong United. To catch up on Hillsong: Let Hope Rise as it arrives on home media, Christian Cinema connected with her to hear about her role within the band and in the film.

Smith grew up in New South Wales, a small country town on the north side of Australia, thirty miles from the coast. After moving to Sydney to pursue music as a career, Smith was drawn to Hillsong Church. Having grown up in a Christian home and participating freely in church, Smith discovered a niche working with the youth group. “I wasn’t able to be part of the creative team, so it was sort of a hidden season for me,” Smith shared. “Then about four and a half years ago, I tried out for The Voice.”

Praying that God would work through her unease, Smith surrendered the outcome to God – and ended up invited to record some tracks with the Hillsong band while she waited to hear back. Now, she sees all of what transpired as God-intended, and is happy with where she ended up, even if it means being the only woman in the band.

“I don’t have any older brothers so I feel like I inherited fourteen of them,” Smith said, chuckling. “We have this Australian saying, ‘Tall Puppy Syndrome,’ so if someone was to get ahead of the rest, or get a big head, the rest of us would keep them accountable.”

“Now, the boys’ children and wives have become my family when we’re not on the road. We’re definitely having fun and not taking ourselves too seriously.”

“I feel we’re very blessed about what we get to do and what we get to see.”

This down-to-earth approach made the leaders of Hillsong skeptical when Hollywood producers approached them about making a film about the band. “’Who us?’” Smith laughed. “It’s definitely something that has been surreal for sure, something that I never thought that we would be part of. But if people pick up the DVD and it leads them to the music, to church…”

Smith said that different people find Hillsong in their own way. Some come to a worship night in ‘the States’ as she called the U.S.; others hear someone play a song and then end up Googling the church. But Smith’s most unique connection?

“Nicky Minaj posted a video of a girl singing ‘Oceans,’ so now a random person might see the video and come check out the church.”

Smith said that when the band isn’t traveling that they’re just normal folks, leading in their church and working on being a better band. “I love that we’re normal and very plugged into church,” she said. “We’re not rock stars. We hope people see the films and see how normal how we are. The boys when they’re home change nappies and hang out with the kids. Sometimes it looks different because we’re dealing with jet lag, or maybe extra wash!”

As we closed, I asked Smith for her favorite Christmas songs. She recounted a love for a version of Miracle on 34th Street with Pierce Brosnan, and a girl wishing for a mom in a snowy New York that Smith couldn’t relate to because of the snow. But then she admitted to discovering Will Ferrell’s Elf, and finding it hilarious. That’s when it hit me:

Hillsong United is using their music, and now a movie, to fulfill one of Elf’s principles: to spread [Christian] cheer, they are singing loud for all to hear!

Hillsong: Let Hope Rise is available December 20.