Former 'Idol' Fantasia, back from the brink

Fantasia Barrino doesn't want to talk about the night in August when she tried to kill herself.

To her, it's done. It's over. It's old news.

"I'm moving on.... I just want everybody to know that I'm good. I am human. So because I'm human, that makes me just like you," the Charlotte-based R&B singer told the Observer in a recent phone interview.

She genuinely sounds happy, with good reason: Her new album, "Back to Me" - released two weeks after the suicide attempt - debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 to become the highest-charting of her three albums. And this month she launched her first-ever headlining tour.

"I feel like I did go back to work completely early," said Fantasia, who performs at Ovens Auditorium Wednesday. "That's the business - you have obligations and things you're committed to.... There were a lot of interviews when I first went back to work that I hated. I was miserable and I was out of it and I just wanted to say, 'Hell with it all.'

"But now talking to you guys and going on the stage, it's a great place personally for me to be. It's something that's needed."

Dark side of the fairy tale

Fantasia's career has been both a fairy tale and a cautionary tale.

She grew up in poverty in High Point, was raped as a teenager and dropped out of high school having never learned to read. Then she won "American Idol's" third season in 2004, when the Fox reality competition was at its height of popularity, blowing away judges and the voting public with her powerhouse vocals.

Her debut album was a success, and she landed a starring role on Broadway in "The Color Purple." But Fantasia had financial troubles practically from the get-go - credit delinquency involving a $240,000 Mercedes, liens on her first house, unpaid fees on back taxes on her second.

More than 31/2 years passed between her second and third albums. Then, weeks before the release of her long-awaited comeback album, the story of her romantic involvement with a married Charlotte man came out. The 26-year-old singer landed in CMC-Pineville days later, on Aug. 9, due to an overdose of aspirin and sleeping pills.

Fantasia has vehemently denied tabloid insinuations that the suicide attempt was a publicity stunt, and at times during her chat with the Observer, frustration bubbled to the surface.

These days, she said, "It's all about, 'What are you looking like? What are you wearing? Who's doing who?' And I think that that is a disgrace. We've gotten past what it is that God has given us the gift to do, and that is to sing and to bless you guys with our music."

'Only Fantasia knows'

Yet her misfortunes have no doubt generated renewed interest: On the day her CD was released, Aug. 24, she discussed her overdose on "Good Morning America" and in a VH1 "Behind the Music" special. The Oct. 31 episode of her VH1 reality show "Fantasia For Real" focused on the events and drew nearly 40 percent more viewers than usual.

"Back to Me" was the second-best-selling album by an "Idol" alumnus as of last week, according to Nielsen SoundScan data, trailing only "Play On" by Carrie Underwood, a nominee for the Country Music Association's album of the year.

Her speedy rebound hit the no-turning-back point on Nov. 5 in Norfolk, Va., where Fantasia began a 30-city jaunt that rolls through the Carolinas this week, with stops in Charlotte, Greensboro and Columbia.

Hollywood insider Joshua Estrin, an "Idol" aficionado who has met and interviewed Fantasia, says she has to change to succeed.

"It appears that the very drive that may have led her to push herself too hard will in fact act as part of what she needs to bring her back and fully integrated into life," says Estrin, who runs popmuncher.com (and who holds a master's degree from Columbia University in clinical therapy). "If she wants to live a full life, she will - but she will also need to do things a bit differently, and I would hope she has a network of support both personal and professional.

"In the end, only Fantasia knows what she is ready for."

At least for the time being, she seems to be at peace with her place in the world.

"I have learned now to live life for 'Tasia," she said, "because for so long I had gotten all caught up into that 'What would they say? What would they think?' I won't do that anymore because I think that's what led me to the place that I got to... the breaking point of trying to please people.

"And when I got to that point, nobody that I was trying to please was there for me. Nobody. So now I have to just live life for me."