Kiandra Richardson had her ticket in hand when she got the call to play Whitney Houston in “Born for This: The BeBe Winans Story,” now at Arena Stage. A very specific kind of ticket.

“I had gotten my golden ticket for ‘American Idol’ and was on my way to Hollywood,” Richardson says. “A week before I was going to fly out, [the Winans show’s producers] said, ‘We want you to have the role.’ I was like, “I have to go to Hollywood!’ The next day BeBe calls my phone. … He is so persuasive and he just touched my heart. It just felt right.”

Richardson decided not to continue competing in “Idol’s” 15th and final season. The chance to play one of her childhood inspirations in “Born for This,” a musical about the life of gospel-singing siblings BeBe and CeCe Winans (Houston was a longtime friend), was too good to pass up.

At the age of 4, Richardson says, she would dance around the house whenever her mother played 1994’s “Whitney: The Concert for a New South Africa” on VHS: “I knew that concert back and forth. She was instantly one of my biggest inspirations.”

Richardson relied on that concert, as well as other footage from Houston’s life, to learn the late singer’s mannerisms and speech patterns. Of course, you can’t play Houston and not sing — and Richardson knows that every member of the audience is waiting to see if she can live up to the legend.

“I expected that,” she says. “When I do finally sing, the audience has that moment of ‘I hope she can sing.’ It’s a little bit of pressure the first time; I want it to be great.”

The story
“Born for This” tells the story of gospel singer BeBe Winans as he and sister CeCe (played by their real-life nephew and niece, Juan Winans and Deborah Joy Winans) rise to fame. From their church beginnings in Detroit to “The PTL Club” to arenas, the musical mixes new songs with hymns and the duo’s classics.

Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St. SW; through Aug. 28, $50-$99.

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