The path to superstardom appears to have gotten a lot shorter in recent years, thanks in large part to a spate of TV talent shows that pluck people from obscurity and jettison them to the top of the charts. Those who don't believe winning The Voice, America's Got Talent, or American Idol all but assures a fast track to fame need only look at the careers of folks like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, and Adam Lambert to appreciate that premise.
Add Fantasia Barrino, better known simply as Fantasia, to that list. In the dozen or so years since winning American Idol — when Simon Cowell told her she was the best contestant the show had ever seen — she's racked up a number one single, a platinum-selling debut album, a chart-topping followup, a Grammy nod for another single, roles on Broadway in The Color Purple and After Midnight, and sales of nearly 3 million albums in the U.S. alone. As if all of that weren't enough — and damn, it sure ought to be — VH1 listed her as number 32 on its list "100 Greatest Women in Music."
"It feels really good, but to be honest, I try not to get caught up in all of it," Fantasia insists. "When you get caught up in it, you forget the passion for the music. You get so busy fighting for a position or a top spot. And that becomes miserable. I had that happen to me. I was so busy trying to see... how many people would say my name and how many awards I could get that I was forgetting about my children, forgetting about my husband, forgetting about the things that make me happy. I was so busy waking up, going to sleep, waking up, going to sleep, trying to figure out how to get to a certain spot. That's not a happy place. If I don't receive another award, another Grammy, another nomination, if God doesn't do anything else, he's done enough for me already."
Having set such a high bar for herself so early on, Fantasia was forced to free herself from the burdens and expectations borne from her own success.
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"Every time I hit the stage, I'm able to step into that creative world and allow myself to be free," she says, "not keep myself in a box or [worrying] about what people will think or if they like it. I always allow that door to open creatively. I try not to put too much pressure on myself by saying, 'Wow, that last show was so good. How am I going to top that?' I prefer to be free, fly free, and be creative."
Still, showbiz is a fickle proposition, and success one day doesn't necessarily guarantee fame and fortune the next. Fantasia says she's never been one to withhold her thoughts and feelings — even about her personal life — and though some have cautioned her about revealing too much, she insists that won't discourage her. Her success, she says, wasn't due to her music as much as it was to a desire to stay true to herself and, in effect, always keep it real.
"I remember people saying to me sometimes that maybe I should hide this or hide that," she recalls. "But I'm not God, and I don't want to be idolized as a perfect person. I want people to be able to see the raw and the real. I want them to see that you can fall and get back up again because that's life... Keep going, keep fighting, be who you are, stand strong... that's what I did."
With Guordan Banks and La'Porsha Renae. 8 p.m. on Saturday, November 26, at the Au-Rene Theater at the Broward Center of the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $39.50-$69.50 at ticketmaster.com.