Fantasia, Modern Southern BelleBy Jerome Langston | Alt Daily
As a fellow African-American southerner who grew up steeped in the gospel and churchified culture,
I found myself hopelessly relating to the Fantasia Barrino, initially sounding both hoarse and groggy, who candidly revealed herself during a media teleconference last week.
As one of a half-dozen or so journalists who peppered the North Carolina native and American Idol winner with questions, I was initially somewhat disengaged from the Fantasia story. That changed, however, once the similarities of our childhoods became evident: being raised between Virginia and North Carolina, for instance, and being born into a family of gospel singers who achieved notable local success. It had all been there in her bio, yet I didn’t “get it” till she started talking the way that people who come from that particular, black southern Christian cultural aesthetic, talk.
So Barrino’s candor, though refreshing, was expected within the context of where she’s from and how she was raised. And as I eventually realized all of that, I was able to place her recent suicide attempt, as well as her previous issues with a potential home foreclosure and functional illiteracy, within a clearer context. So there was little to no judgment from me, as the singer/actress passionately discussed her upcoming nationwide tour, which kicks off this Friday at Chrysler Hall with fellow R&B singers Eric Benet and Kandi opening.
The Back To Me tour, named after her new CD, is reportedly Barrino’s first headlining tour, which is a bit surprising considering the single mother’s level of success. After winning season three of the hugely popular but culturally waning television show, American Idol, back in 2004, Fantasia has garnered both platinum and gold-certified studio albums, numerous pop and R&B hit singles, as well as eight Grammy nominations. She also starred on Broadway in the Oprah produced version of Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, where she earned critical praise for her performance as Celie. Her third studio album, Back To Me, debuted at #1 on the R&B album chart earlier this year, and the ubiquitous single “Bittersweet” is all over urban radio.
Yet mean-spirited public chatter has constantly followed the popular artist over the course of her short career, and it reached fever pitch this past summer, upon news of an alleged affair with a married man, whom the singer believed was separated from his wife… and the sad, resulting suicide attempt that followed. And though she’s certainly gained empathy from much of the public, the incident has also been derided as little more than a publicity stunt, used to bolster sales of her then upcoming album. Still, regardless of the controversies, the singer comfortably opened up about aspects of the past few months, as well as her clear passion for making music which comes out of a soul music lineage, as well as the theatrical nature of her concerts.
Parts of our interview, which features questions posed to Barrino from a number of us journalists, is posted below. As alluded to before, I found the chick charming in that modern black southern belle kind of way. She was no Whitley Gilbert… but came across as both classy and “down home” nevertheless.
I actually wanted to know why you or whoever put the tour together decided to kick it off in Virginia. Do you have any kind of personal connections to the Commonwealth, with it being so tightly connected to North Carolina? ~question from Jerome Langston
Sorry if you can’t hear me. I’m experiencing…. we’ve been rehearsing for two weeks now. I have family in Virginia. Every time I come through Virginia, they show me so much love. For me, not being on tour in three years, I don’t want to start somewhere where they would [not] uplift me and… sit back and be so judgmental. It will (be having) those people to come and see what you’re doing and see what you got on and, “Can she still do her thing.” I know that Virginia shows me a lot of love. I also have family there.
To piggyback on an answer that you had given about being from Virginia, what part of Virginia is your family from? The other question was, as far as performing, how are you keeping— because I’ve seen you several times before. You give a lot on stage, so how are you keeping yourself up, the stamina? ~question from Rashod Ollison, Virginian-Pilot.
Now, because I’ve done Broadway, I would look out in the audience and I would just see how many people were there… I said, “How can I get that to my show? How can I bring those same people out?” What I did was I went— I have a story to tell. We have different scenes…a juke joint scene. I worked with Nicci from Brownstone and got to work with Terri. Terri played on The Steve Harvey Show. Chrystale, she was in a movie called, Players Club, her acting is amazing. Tony Terry was also a part of it. We just pulled a lot of great people from Atlanta. We came into the studio and created this juke joint scene.
So, I’ve just been putting a lot of time in. I haven’t been able to sleep because, with me, Brian says I have flights of ideas, like a genius, but they go, and my mind just goes. I’ve been so excited that I haven’t been getting much sleep. So, I went to the doctor yesterday. She flushed me out and told me some things I need to do and gave me some B-12’s.
That’s the thing. For so long, I’ve always just ran, ran, ran, and not taken care of myself, thought I could be an Energizer Bunny and go, but now that we’ve gotten the juke joint scenes over and that we needed for the screens, the band, everybody has… We have what we need. I can go in our rehearsals and just sit and listen. So, I won’t go so hard because I never know how to get on the mic and not go. I’ll say, “I’m just going to sing light,” but I don’t know how to do that. So, I’m just lying when I say that. Now that we’re comfortable, we have everything. Today when I go on rehearsals, I’ll just sit and I’ll watch and listen to them.
I have family in Richmond, Virginia. I have family in Norfolk, aunties and uncles and cousins that are all there. Whenever I would come to D.C., they would all drive down and bring me fried chicken and macaroni and cheese and collard greens. So hopefully, they’ll bring me some more of that. That’ll give me some energy.
I was wondering how you’re now coping with media and public scrutiny. Now, how are you dealing with it differently, if you are? ~ question from Jerome Langston.
You want me to be very honest with you? I don’t pay no attention to it. I don’t care what they say.
I’ll be the guy who asks this. How are you dealing with the aftermath of your suicide attempt? Tell us a little bit about what brought you to that point. ~ question from John Moser.
Again, like I told the first young man, I don’t really pay attention to what people have to say. I don’t really care what they have to say anymore. You guys are just like me. You’re only human.
People can have their say-so. They can have their opinions. They have every right to that, but will I let it affect me anymore? No. I’m in a better place. Every day, I take baby steps. I’m 26-years-old and have dealt with a lot. I always tell people that I’ve always been the artist that takes the heat. Don’t [any] body have anything nice to say about me. It’s never anything good.
They use the pictures, always the worst picture. If they say something, it’s always the worst comment. All the good things I realize that I’ve accomplished or done, like when I received my high school diploma, I heard nothing about that, but before I got my high school diploma, I would always hear things like, “She’s dumb. She’s this. She’s that.” So, I guess I will always just be that artist that they will never give a break and I don’t really care. I have a gift and that is to sing. That’s what I’m going to do, every time I get the mic in my hand. I sing.
As far as this show, you were mentioning that you have a juke joint scene and all of this. It sounds more that you were influenced a lot by your stint on Broadway. What can we expect on this tour as far as the people on stage, the band, and all of the trappings that you put into this show? ~ question from Rashod Ollison.
I got a lot of influence from the Broadway show that I did, but I also, after coming out of the hospital, I remember saying, “Well, what brought you through? What helped you out?” I stayed at my computer room on YouTube. I went on the YouTube, the people that were hot in the 50’s and 60’s era. I also YouTubed a lot of Cab Calloway. I watched those artists: Cab Calloway, Billie Holiday. I watched a lot of Mahogany, Diana Ross, James Brown, Tina Turner, a lot of Queen, a lot of Aerosmith, just a lot of artists that I really, really love, but I was more stuck on that 50’s/60’s era.
So, I wanted to bring that to my show: the Cab Calloway outfits, the flapper dress, the spectator shoes, all of that is going to be a part of my show. I’m going to be dressed just like that. Most of my scenes, we already shot them so that when the band and everybody is off stage, and when the building strikes black, you’ll see the big screen. We have that juke joint part. We have a scene where I kind of stole from Billie Holiday when she did— There’s a YouTube where she does “Fine and Mellow” live. She sits down. She speaks with this man. I kind of relived that. I have an interview part where he asks me a couple questions, just like you guys are. I get very personal on my interview. Again, everything that I go through, I always take it. I speak about it. I don’t run or shy away from anything. So, I have a scene where that happens.
We also have a big band [feel]. We have a horn section and a lot of cats that have been with me for a while. They’re all from Jacksonville, Florida. They’re all church-going kids. So, I had it going to rehearsal and get kind of tough on them because I know … coming from the church certain way you play and sing because it’s just been in you, but because I wanted something different, because I wanted that Color Purple Broadway feel, the big band feel. That’s why we’ve been in rehearsals for so long, because it had to be perfect when you come in and you start to play like that. You can’t half step. You can’t be cheesy.
It has to be on point. Some of the actors and actresses again are named Nicci from Brownstone and Terri who played on The Steve Harvey Show, but I use my background singers. I use my horn section because when we were on the road together, from city to city, and all we know is us. We entertain each other. That’s how we used to do it when we were kids. I knew that the people in my family… they can act. Also, that’s … play movies. I seen you all do some stupid stuff on the road that makes us laugh when we’re tired and we’re sad. So, they were all looking at me like I was crazy at first, but when you see it, you’re going to like, “Wow.” They made me cry. They brought tears to my eyes because they brought my vision to life. They gave me their all. So, expect a show that shows showmanship, people just giving their all.
Fantasia will be at Chrysler Hall on Friday. Click here for more info or tickets.