For a gospel singer, his sound is more Michael Jackson than Mahalia Jackson—one reason why Smith, 34, can climb the mainstream charts as well (last year's Place in this World
reached No. 5). Nor does it hurt that The Milwaukee Sentinel
, in reviewing a recent concert, raved less about Smitty's music than his looks: "Killer blue eyes. Fluffy blond hair. Classic profile. Stubble. The impression is George Michael with good intentions."
A sexy contemporary Christian singer? The thought makes Smith fidget. Growing up in Kenova, W.Va., he recalls, "everyone said I looked like my father, and he is a fine-looking man. But we didn't talk much about things like beauty." After high school Smith migrated to Nashville to write gospel songs. Before success could knock, marijuana and cocaine came courting. One night in 1979, "I just wigged out," he says, but "God woke me up." Rediscovering his faith and quitting drugs, Smith signed on as a songwriter-keyboardist with Amy Grant. In 1983 he went solo. When not touring, Smith leads a stay-at-home life outside Nashville with wife Debbie, 33, and their four children (a fifth is imminent). "I guess I always knew I was good to look at," he concedes. "Everyone always talked about my eyes, 'the big blues.' But I don't think it went to my head." No, just into his act.