Ready for Wolf Trap, Fantasia reflects on ‘American Idol’ win, Simon’s ‘tough love’

Fantasia Barrino
FILE – In this April 7, 2016, file photo, Fantasia Barrino performs at the “American Idol” farewell season finale at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP, File)

Hear the full conversation on my podcast “Beyond the Fame.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Fantasia at Wolf Trap (Part 1)

Her victory on Season 3 of “American Idol” made her a household name. Now, Fantasia Barrino is bringing her signature sound to Wolf Trap in Virginia on Aug. 19.

“When I hit the stage, of course, I’m doing the hits, but I try to take it back,” Fantasia told WTOP. “I’ve been in the game 20 years. I’m looking for that feeling I had when I was a little girl, so we’re gonna take it back.”

Born in North Carolina in 1984, Fantasia began singing at age 5 with her first cousins, K-Ci & JoJo, who recorded R&B hits like “All My Life” and “Crazy.” She dropped out of high school as a single mom, before auditioning for Season 3 of “American Idol” at age 19.

“There was so much talent on stage with me,” Fantasia said. “I had a great group: LaToya London, George Huff, [Jennifer Hudson]. … We spent so much time together, we got to know each other. We were all praying for each other like, ‘Whoever takes it, just take it and go far.'”

Her shoeless performance of “Summertime” from “Porgy & Bess” earned praise from Simon Cowell, whom Fantasia said “will always be my favorite.” Why? “Because I like his honesty,” she said. “We live in a world where everybody is patty-caking people and telling them what they want to hear, and he never did that. He reminds me of my father. … Tough love.”

It’s hard to tell younger viewers just how big “American Idol” was in its early years. Last year’s Season 19 finale drew 7.35 million viewers. However, before the splintering of countless streaming options, the early seasons of “American Idol” were ubiquitous.

A staggering 22.8 million people watched Kelly Clarkson win Season 1, a record 38.1 million people watched Ruben Studdard win Season 2 and 28.8 million watched Fantasia Barrino win Season 3. (For comparison, 19.3 million watched the “Game of Thrones” finale).

“I’ll never forget that feeling,” Fantasia said of winning. “If you go back and play the footage, my heel broke on my shoe, my bracelet broke off, my necklace broke off. For me, that was spiritual. It was like chains were breaking, generational curses were breaking.”

Her “Idol” victory song, “I Believe,” reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 as her debut album “Free Yourself” earned three Grammy nominations. Her second album, “Fantasia,” featured the single “When I See U,” while her third album “Back to Me” had “Bittersweet.”

In 2007, she played the lead role of Celie in “The Color Purple” musical on Broadway, a role that she will reprise on screen in an upcoming movie to be released next year.

“I just got off ‘The Color Purple’ set,” Fantasia said. “We were there in Atlanta for six months, so now after playing Celie again, I want to go back to my roots,” Fantasia said. “People are hungry to be fed by encouragement and to be inspired. They want to see somebody who’s really going through the trenches and really went through the fire, and I’m that girl.”

She says that she and her fellow “American Idol” winners try to keep in touch among their busy schedules, but when they finally do reunite, they kick it just like old times.

“‘Idol’ will always be just a big family,” Fantasia said. “Ruben is married now and has a child. Kelly has her kids; she’s doing her show. … I’m married now with three beautiful children.” My daughter’s birthday [was yesterday], my oldest turned 21, happy birthday to her!”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Fantasia at Wolf Trap (Part 2)

Hear the full conversation on my podcast “Beyond the Fame.”

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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