It's been a bumpy road for singer/actress Fantasia Barrino since she took the big prize during the third season of Fox's "American Idol" in 2004. On the high end of the spectrum, post-"Idol" she was the first recording artist to debut at number one with a debut single, "I Believe." Grammy nominations came next, a cable bio-pic, an autobiography and then a starring role in the Broadway adaptation of Alice Walker's beloved "The Color Purple." However, the low end of the spectrum came when rumors of financial difficulties sprouted in the press and, despite rave reviews for her role as Celie by Broadway critics, vocal problems caused her to miss approximately fifty performances of the show and Barrino's overall image was tarnished. On top of that tabloid fodder, sales from her second album, "Fantasia," were not as promising as the first and questions were raised whether the 25-year old performer had perhaps peaked. However, if there's one thing America loves with its favorite entertainers it's a comeback. Earlier this month Barrino, determined to get her career back on track and bring audiences and fans up to speed with what is truly going on her life, turned cameras on herself (and her family) and VH1's "Fantasia For Real" was born on VH1. To find out why she felt it was necessary to let people into every aspect of her life, Barrino made room on her hectic calendar to talk with our Jim Halterman.
Jim Halterman: From what I gather in watching "Fantasia For Real," your life is really being pulled in many different directions both personally and professionally. Was adding a TV show to the mix a way to alleviate some of that?
Fantasia Barrino: Of course, I've been around cameras and everything but having cameras with you every day and in my personal life, it was different for me but it was something I wanted to do. I kind of wanted to clear out the rumors and all of the true and the false and let everyone hear it from my mouth. I've always been that artist where I've been just very open and real about everything going on in my life. I just don't know any other way to be. I did my Lifetime movie and my biography. I was putting it all out there and I thought it would help a lot with just the bad press. At the time, I didn't need any more bad press that was damaging my name and destroying my character. I wanted to, as I said, allow people to see what really was going on in my world and here is why some of the things that happened happened. I'm a 25-year old woman who takes care of my whole family.
JH: Starting with your "American Idol' days, you've always seemed to be the kind of performer that fans felt able to relate to easily. Do you see that?
FB: Yeah, I do. A lot of people in this industry are not approachable when they become these big time superstars and I've always been that artist that is approachable. I go out in North Carolina when I'm home, I still go to Target and I do my thing. People are allowed the opportunity to come up and say to me "I've heard your story and I heard you talk about this and I can so relate.' They'll tell me their whole story, which is weird because they've never met me but they still feel comfortable but I feel like I can relate because I came out with my little problems and things and I overcame when people said I wouldn't be able to do this or do that and all the things they said were going to hold me back. There are so many people out there like that. They come up to me and "I can talk to her and tell her what's been going on in my life and maybe she can encourage me' and they tend to do that a lot everywhere I go.
JH: In the show, your manager, Brian, says that you have a problem over-committing. Have you been working on that or is that just who you are?
FB: I guess that's just who I am. In the beginning, when I didn't really have anyone representing me as well as Brian is representing me now, I would commit to or say I'd do it but nobody else would follow through. They would ask me to come and do something and I'd say "You know what? I can do that' but then I had nobody on my end saying "No, you can't' or "Let me set that up' or "Give me the number and let me call them and we'll figure out a date.' It became too much and I guess I do have a problem - especially with my family - with just over-committing and trying to be there as much as I can.
JH: We also see in the show how you deal with the music industry executives, who sometimes don't see eye to eye with your decisions about your music. How does that play out in the show?
FB: I think the thing with the record company is that it's been almost 3 years. And with "Once Again" all the drama, all the lies and all that management and just everything that was going on in Fantasia's world, people kind of got distant and they felt like maybe I wasn't maybe working anymore or doing anything anymore so everybody kind of fell back and "Move On Me' (the first single off the new album) came about not with the record company's help. I had producers and people who fell in love with me and would just let come to their studios and record. I was the one trying to find music and songs and trying to build up an album that nobody - no, management, no record company - was even on board with it. It was like, I don't want to say they gave up but it's true that when you're hot, you're hot and when you're not, you're not and they want to find the next person who is hot on the block instead of saying "We've got this young lady here who's workable so let's do this, let's do that.' They fell back and they also started listening to what they hear in the press. "Maybe she's not working' or "Maybe she's missing 50 shows' or 'Maybe this or maybe that.' "Move On Me' is such a tough song because it wasn't anybody's idea from the record company. They didn't come into the studio. It was something I came with in the studio with a producer by the name of KP in Atlanta. At the time, nobody was really ready for it. I'm excited for that song because it means a lot to me in so many ways. It was one of the songs that picked me up and made me feel like "OK, you can keep going. You still got it. You still got people who care and they still believe in me.' I just had to go in and make the record company believe in it so I guess you have to watch and see how that plays out on the show.
JH: Your brother Teeny seems to provide a lot of the drama in your personal life that we see on the show. How does that arc with him play out in future episodes?
FB: You have to watch. I can't give you too much but I can say this - my family is my family, I love them the way they are and it's always been that way. And if Teeny was to change�he's always been that loud and just lives-in-his-own-world type of guy and I love him for that. What I wanted my family to realize is it was a lot on me and I don't ever want them to go anywhere but if they get out of hand - and you'll see when Grandma steps in and Mom steps in - we all say a little prayer, sing a little song, cook a good meal and after that everybody is over it. We're like anybody's family. I didn't do this show for us to fall apart or not be close. I think the show actually brought us all closer together and you'll see that towards the end of the season.
"Fantasia For Real" airs every Monday night at 10:00/9:00c on VH1.