updated 09/30/2009 AT 10:00 AM ET
•originally published 09/30/2009 AT 11:30 AM ET
After focusing on her family for the last nine years, Chynna Phillips, who shot to stardom as a member of the pop trio Wilson Phillips, is relaunching her music career, this time as a member of the contemporary Christian duo Chynna and Vaughan.
“It s very, very exciting,” Phillips, 41, whose upbeat new album with singer-songwriter Vaughan Penn, One Reason, is already climbing the music charts, tells PEOPLE exclusively.
But the album s Sept. 22 debut came amid controversy. The following day, High on Arrival, her half-sister Mackenzie’s memoir was published. In the book, the actress reveals that their father, John Phillips of the 1960s pop group the Mamas and the Papas, raped Mackenzie when she was 19 – and that she had an on-and-off sexual relationship with him over the course of a decade. “It s such an uncomfortable subject for any family to talk about,” Chynna tells PEOPLE.
Despite her “personal struggle” with the revelation, the singer came forward on The Oprah Winfrey Show last week to publicly support her half-sister. “I pray that we all get closer through this crisis,” she says about her family. “With prayer, anything is possible. But I would be lying to you if I didn t tell you that there are going to be some huge obstacles in front of us.”
Her Husband s Influence
Phillips is getting through her family s crisis thanks to prayer and the support of actor Billy Baldwin, her husband of 14 years. (The secret to their longevity? “It sounds so cliché but you ve got to communicate and be willing to walk through the fire because it s not always easy,” she says.) Phillips had originally set out to do her own album, but it was Baldwin, 46, who came up with the idea for her to team with Penn, named New Music Weekly s “Top 40 Breakthrough Artist of the Year” in 2007. The singers had been introduced by Phillips’s former stepfather, director Grainger Hines.
When Phillips told Baldwin she liked his idea, “His little feathers were very proud for about a month,” she says with a laugh. “I let him have his moment of glory.” Baldwin executive produced One Reason, and Phillips says they grew closer as a couple during the process. “We had something in common outside of the kids which is important for every married couple,” she says. “For him, it s his baby. He told me he is prouder of this than any project he s ever worked on.”
A Busy Mom
Phillips has devoted the last nine years to raising the couple’s three children, Jameson, 9, Vance, 7, and Brooke, 4. Now, like many other moms, she s juggling kids and career. “I haven t really been working since the day they were born so this is all new to them,” she says. “Luckily, I have a strong relationship with my children so they don t feel so vulnerable when I leave them.” But she does have one scheduling rule: “I never leave them for more than two weeks. I can t handle it emotionally.”
When she s away, Baldwin easily takes over, she says. “He takes them to the movies, does their homework with them and takes our son to baseball. He s an incredible father.”
Running around with the kids and tending to her responsibilities as a mom and wife inspired the album s title song, “One Reason.” One morning, recalls Phillips, “I was supposed to meet Vaughan to write a song. But the time kept getting pushed back because I had so much to do. I called her and said, ‘Please don t ever let my commitments and deadlines get in the way of my relationship with God. If I forget to put God first, I m going to lose control of everything.’”
The song’s lyrics, she says, are “a prayer saying, ‘Help me get my priorities straight.’”
Phillips first became a Christian as a teenager. “I started hanging out with the wrong crowd, and one day when I was 19 or 20, I woke up and realized I had lost my way and had to make some major adjustments and put God first.”
Years later, after she and Baldwin moved to suburban Westchester County, New York, she reconnected with her faith. “I remember saying to God, ‘I am ready to devote my entire life to serving you so please make yourself crystal clear on what path you want me to take.’ Two or three days later, Stephen Baldwin – Billy s brother, who is really on fire for Jesus – came over and prayed over me and I felt the power again come through me, but this time it was like a turbo engine. I realized my path.”
Among her happiest moments? When she is in church with her husband, “an evolving Christian,” and her children. “It s really beautiful to be there with my family.”
A New Fan Base
Phillips, who stays in shape by “eating lots of fruits and vegetables” and exercising at home every day, thinks Wilson Phillips fans will readily accept her as part of a new group. “People will be pleasantly surprised when they hear the sound because it s very different from Wilson Phillips, which had tight vocals and strong, perfected harmonies. With Chynna and Vaughan, it s much more relaxed.”
Her longtime pal and former Wilson Phillips groupmate Carnie Wilson “heard a few of the songs and loved them,” says Phillips, who tours from time to time with Carnie and her sister Wendy, the third member of the trio. “We love singing together,” she says. “It s something we want to do for the rest of our lives.”
In the meantime, she hopes her new album will inspire others. “I pray that there is a dramatic difference in people s lives through my music,” she says. “What s the point if you can t change people s lives for the better?”