Almost heaven

PHILLY ELDER GOLDWIRE McLENDON FALLS JUST SHY ON B.E.T.'S 'SUNDAY BEST'

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Elder Goldwire McLendon blets out his Sunday best on the BET talent show "Sunday Best." He wound up placing second.

AS A MAN of faith, Goldwire McLendon watched last night's finals of BET's "Sunday Best," more excited than nervous.

"I was just waiting for the word," he said last night.

So when host Kirk Franklin announced LeAndria Johnson as the winner, McLendon was disappointed but accepted his second place finish with customary grace.

Now he's hoping that "Sunday Best" judge Yolanda Adams follows through with her promise to help him get a CD produced.

McLendon, a very young 79, said he stays fit - he showed off some fine dance moves in the finals - by doing a lot of walking, a lot of singing and eating a lot of ice cream. And now that BET has brought him national fame, he's "just waiting for an opportunity to record and get my music out there."

In an interview last week, before he knew the results of last night's show - for which two different endings had been prerecorded - McLendon said he wasn't stressed over the wait.

"I have developed a tremendous relationship with the Lord to give me comfort and peace," said McLendon, an elder at Philadelphia's Mount Olive Temple and the lead singer for the Savettes Choral Ensemble. His final numbers in the "Sunday Best" competition were "I Know It Was the Blood" and "Jesus Be a Fence Around Me."

Of his competition, Johnson, of Orlando, Fla., who at 27 is young enough to be his granddaughter, he said: "I thank God for her. I am so in awe at such a talented voice . . . The girl is quite extravagant. I don't know how else to express it other than that she is a singing machine."

A contestant's age doesn't matter, said the father of five, grandfather of 14 and great-grandfather of 15, who's been singing since the age of 9.

"I just let God use me for his glory."

Honored last year at the First Annual Living Legend Music Awards at the African American Museum - an honor he shared with, among others, Chubby Checker and Dee Dee Sharp - McLendon said he was talked into auditioning for Season 3 of "Sunday Best," a show he hadn't been watching.

Since then, McLendon has "never heard so much about Twitter in my whole life," he said, laughing.

His daughter, he said, actually handles his Twitter account, which is linked from, yes, his Facebook page.

McLendon credits some lessons he, his wife, Ruth, and their daughter took from a voice teacher in New York years ago for maintaining his smooth, unforced style over seven decades.

"I began to practice the way he showed us to," focusing on breathing from the diaphragm, not the throat, he said.

"You can sing and not get hoarse. I had seen many of my peers" get hoarse from too much singing, he said. "I get a lot of comments on my smooth singing."

Fox's "American Idol" may swing on song choice, but "Sunday Best," most likely the only singing competition on TV where judges reference the Holy Ghost and talk about a contestant getting "a standing ovation from God," proved the best fit for a man who said he's spent his entire life singing "gospel and hymns" only.

"I was raised up on that, so it's part of my spirit and my nature," McLendon said.

He was also raised with an unusual first name, one he inherited from his father, the late Goldwire McLendon Sr.

His grandfather named one of his sons Goldwire and another Sylvester, because "he got the idea of silver and gold," McLendon said.

"I didn't relish the idea when I was about 11. But when I got a bit older, people began to tell me how different it was - they'd never heard of a Goldwire - and I began to adjust to it, and to begin to like it." *

Staff Writer Howard Gensler contributed to this report.

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