Not a lot of baby-mamas get to go on tour with Kanye West, but Fantasia Barrino isn't the average baby-mama. At 21, she's the mother of a 4-year-old (daughter Zion) and happens to be a platinum-selling R&B singer and a season-winner of "American Idol."
Fantasia's strings of life weren't always so sweet as these gorgeous high notes that are playing now. She recently released a book, Life Is Not a Fairy Tale, in which she describes being a young, single mother who has experienced considerable abuse and hardship. Among its shocking revelations: She has been functionally illiterate for most of her life (she's now being tutored and working on getting her high-school diploma).
But through the successful use of her distinct musical gift, she is transforming lives. After winning "American Idol," she bought a house for her family and started college funds for Zion as well as her youngest brother.
Being able to provide for Zion has given Fantasia a point of pride that was missing in her life.
"It feels good to be able to go home and have something in my hand for her, because there was a time when I couldn't do like I wanted to for her," she says. "She loves Barbies and Cabbage Patch dolls, so now every time I come home I've got a Barbie or a Cabbage Patch or a book for her. And the smile on her face -- it just lights up. And I'm like, 'OK, I work hard for a reason.'
"Every day is a challenge, but it makes me a stronger woman and it makes me a better mom. When I first started leaving and she would cry and stuff, it was really hard for me on the road and thinking, 'My child is missing me, I'm out here. Is it worth it?' Now that she's getting older, she's starting to understand and it's like, 'Yeah, it's worth it.' Because I'm allowed to do something that I love and at the same time take care of my child and do things I've always wanted to do for her. It's hard because sometimes I get kinda jealous now, too, because she tells me she's got two moms. She calls my mom 'Mama' and she calls me 'Mommy.' I'm like, 'No! One mom, one grandmother!'"
Before Fantasia won the 2004 season of "American Idol" with more votes cast than for the winner of the presidential election, the claim to fame of her hometown of High Point, N.C., was as the "furniture capital of the world." Instead, it's now known as the incubator for some of the most startling, natural talent that may ever cross Simon Cowell's path.
Not that he would agree, mind you. Cowell was recently overheard on "Howard Stern" grousing that Fantasia should have stuck to the "Idol" formula on her debut album. Free Yourself has been certified platinum, a rare feat for any first effort, yet Cowell thought she could sell much more if she had done it differently.
Free Yourself includes her two cover songs that dazzled "Idol" audiences: Willie Nelson's "You Were Always on My Mind" and George Gershwin's "Summertime." But the remainder is less "Idol" and much more contemporary R&B. To make her urban music dreams come true, Fantasia didn't mess around. She came straight to Atlanta to pow-wow with mega-mogul Jermaine Dupri and super-producer/singer Jazze Pha. She also worked with two of the city's most happening young songwriters, Johnta Austin (a regular pen for Mariah Carey) and Sean Garrett (fresh from a hot streak with songs like Usher's "Yeah!" and Ciara's "Goodies").
Songwriting is really the lucrative end of the business. Inspired by her work with Austin and Garrett, Fantasia plans to get more into the craft as she advances in her music career. As an aside, I tell her that songwriting also interests me.
"Write one," says Fantasia, with what seems like genuine encouragement, "and I'll sing it!"
Well, how's that for inspirational? When you wish upon a star, indeed.