Fantasia Barrino may have won the third season of American Idol with "I Believe," but it was her passionate take on George Gershwin's "Summertime" that had everyone talking for weeks. Confident to a degree that she could be considered brash, Barrino at first glance seemed an unlikely candidate to take the teen-oriented show's title, but with her dynamic gospel-tinged voice that never failed her, she not only became the Idol judges' obvious favorite, but the American public's, too. She debuted with a platinum album and remained with a major label longer than most other Idol stars and R&B singers.
Born and raised in High Point, North Carolina, Barrino fell in love with music through the recordings of Monica, Brandy, Aretha Franklin, P!nk, and — in keeping with her diversity — Aerosmith. Being a 19-year-old single mother and an Idol finalist had some of the media mumbling and sneering, but the always certain Barrino paid no mind. Becoming a mother at the age of 17 focused Barrino and gave her the strength and drive to audition for the show in Atlanta. Out of 70,000 hopefuls, Barrino earned her way to the top by adjusting her style to whatever genre was thrown at her. Upon beating runner-up Diana DeGarmo, Barrino's first words as American Idol 2004 were "I broke my shoe!" Numerous appearances on talk shows and a cameo on the television show American Dreams — playing the role of her beloved Aretha Franklin — followed.
Barrino made history when she became the first artist ever to debut at number one with her first single, "I Believe" — written by Idol alum Tamyra Gray. J Records released her full-length debut, Free Yourself, in November 2004. Also featuring two Top Five R&B/Hip-Hop hits, it went platinum, and its lead single won a Billboard Music Award for Top Selling Single of the Year. Barrino was also nominated for three Grammy Awards. A year later her autobiography, Life Is Not a Fairy Tale, appeared and was turned into a film directed by Debbie Allen; it premiered on the Lifetime cable network in 2006. Her sophomore effort, simply titled Fantasia, landed that December. It debuted at number 19 on the Billboard 200 and eventually went gold. Back to Me, released in August 2010, was led by a pair of Chuck Harmony-produced singles in "I'm Doin' Me" (number 11, Hot R&B/Hip-Hop) and the Grammy-winning "Bittersweet" (number seven, Hot R&B/Hip-Hop). She gave birth to her second child, a son, in December 2011. The singer's fourth album, Side Effects of You, was released in April 2013. Big K.R.I.T., Kelly Rowland, and Missy Elliott made guest appearances on the set, driven by the Commodores-sampling "Lose to Win." In July 2016, following a co-headlining tour with Anthony Hamilton, Barrino released The Definition Of..., her fifth album, and in 2017 she issued the holiday LP Christmas After Midnight. The standalone single "Enough" arrived in 2019. ~ David Jeffries