Fantasia talks sweet success, 20 years after ‘American Idol’ win: ‘There were times when they kind of counted me out’

Published On May 20, 2024 » By »
Fantasia Barrino attends the 2024 Time 100 Gala in New York City.
(Photo : Michael Loccisano/Getty Images) Fantasia Barrino attends the 2024 Time 100 Gala in New York City.

It was 20 years ago, incredibly, that Fantasia Barrino, then a 19-year-old struggling single mother, was crowned the third winner of American Idol, on one of the series’ most emotional finales. She has since experienced well-publicized personal and professional struggles — to quote her TV biopic and autobiography, post-Idol life has not always a been a fairytale — but it seems she’s finally getting her much-deserved happy ending.

Fantasia Barrino accepts the Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture award onstage at the 55th NAACP Image Awards.
(Photo : Paras Griffin/Getty Images for BET) Fantasia Barrino accepts the Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture award onstage at the 55th NAACP Image Awards.

Fantasia was just named one of TIME 100′s Most Influential People for 2024; led the Tina Turner tribute at this year’s Grammy Awards; and was a Golden Globe and BAFTA Award nominee and NAACP Image Award winner for her performance as Celie in 2023 The Color Purple. Triumphantly returning to American Idol for Sunday’s finale, she told Ryan Seacrest, “All I can say is, I never gave up. Even when doors closed in my face, I knew God had something for me. … I went through a lot of things, but here I stand, better than ever. I never changed for anybody. I still live in North Carolina. I’m a North Carolina girl, and I remain humble. And I know that if it had not been for this show. … This show opened so many doors.”

Backstage after the Season 22 Idol finale, Fantasia, who’s currently at work on her eighth studio album, chatted about her tenacity, how she was almost locked out of her life-changing audition, what was going through her head on the shocking Season 3 night when she was almost eliminated, and whether she’d ever be an Idol judge.

Fantasia Barrino honors Tina Turner at the 66th Grammy Awards.
(Photo : Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy) Fantasia Barrino honors Tina Turner at the 66th Grammy Awards.

I can’t believe it’s been 20 years since you won American Idol. What’s especially interesting and cool is a lot of your biggest successes have happened very recently. It’s kind of like slow and steady wins the race for you, in a way.

FANTASIA: Oh, I love that! It feels good. It feels really good, because there were times when they kind of counted me out. And I didn’t allow that to happen. There’s a fight in me, and there’s a reason why I continue to fight. It’s bigger than money and it’s bigger than fame. I believe that it blesses people along the way. It shows people that in real life and in real time, we all go through stuff. You get what I’m saying? And sometimes people have to know that, no, I didn’t just wake up like this. I don’t just look like this. I go through stuff. I’m a mother. I’m a wife. I used to love that about the old-school singers, because what you saw was what you get. … So, I’ve always kept it real, always been myself. And to see all of the doors that are opening right now, sometimes I have to pinch myself. Being back here tonight, it was so many moments that I had to hold back. I got to feel it again and realize that… like, do you understand that at my first audition, I got locked out of the building?


Yeah. We went down to [Atlanta's] Georgia Dome, and I got locked out the building. A lot of people did, because we had to be back at a certain time, couldn’t come a minute after. And they locked the doors the day before when we were there. Some older guy, he was a security guard, he took a liking to me. Why, I’m not sure. I remember I had my lip pierced — I was 19, that was back in the day! — and he called me over and he says, “Why did you do that [pierce your lip]?’” From there, we just started talking. Talking hours and hours. When I got locked out, my father told me to go to the other side of the building. I thought he was crazy. … But I did it, and that security guard came to the door and asked me, “How did it go?” And Patrick — who’s still here — Patrick was the one who let me in. And I was the last person to audition on that field.

Wow. Another crazy story, when you talk about adversity, is you were one of the only American Idol winners who was ever in the bottom three, and you were in the bottom with Jennifer Hudson. And now you and Jennifer are two of the biggest success stories to ever come out of the show. What do you remember about that night? Did you think for a moment that maybe it was over for you?

I don’t even know; I was so numb that night. … But I felt like to come this far is really good. I’m from High Point, North Carolina; I never thought I would get this far. And when they called [Hudson's] name, it was bittersweet. We were like all a family. It was me, her, LaToya London, George Huff, Camile Velasco, Jasmine Trias. We were all a family. And so, it was bittersweet. She’s a powerhouse and a force to be reckoned with, and I couldn’t understand how she was leaving us so early. But all I kept saying was, “OK, God, I’m still here. You got me here for a reason, so show me what we’re doing here. I don’t know what I’m doing.” And I just kept going, kept following Him, and kept fighting.

There’s an empty chair at the judges’ table next season. Is that something you might consider, if you were asked to be Katy Perry’s replacement on the panel?

Yes, I have said it. I was on TIME 100, and the young lady asked me and I was like, “Yeah, I’ll do it!” [laughs] And then, I think, all the fans started talking about it. I understand what [contestants] go through. I know the rehearsal times. I know about being away from your family. I know when you feel like, “Am I good enough? Am I not? Is this the right song?” So, I would love to sit there. It’s big shoes to fill, but I would love to do it. Come on! Tell ‘em, put it in the atmosphere. Make it happen.

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