LOS ANGELES — You'd be hard-pressed to find an artist who lives her life more openly than Fantasia Barrino. In the six years since she became the third winner of American Idol, Fantasia has published a best-selling memoir, starred in a top-rated Lifetime movie about her life, and now has invited cameras into her house for a VH1 docu-series, Fantasia for Real, which premiered Monday.
The way she sees it, her life is a "testimony," a way to help others even when it means sharing deeply personal and painful aspects of her life, such as her functional illiteracy or that she was raped at 14. But this time, by opening her doors to public scrutiny again, Fantasia, 25, hopes to help herself most of all.
The past couple of years haven't been kind. There were media reports of missed public appearances. Her second album's sales paled in comparison to her debut (although it did garner three Grammy nominations), and bookings dwindled.
Along the way, she had two tumors removed from her vocal cords, gained weight and became depressed, and often felt as if she wanted to give up on her dreams. But something inside her kept her from buckling.
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"It was the time in my life that I could have hid under a rock and never come out," she said. "I decided, why not let people see me while I try to rebuild? Let me give it to you from my world."
What happened to Fantasia, in many ways, is an all-too-familiar Hollywood story. America crowned her its Idol when she was a 19-year-old single mother who grew up in poverty in High Point, N.C.
She knew nothing about show business, and it took her for a bumpy ride. In 2006, she said she cut ties with Idol, dropping its management team. Since then, she has had two other managers and three lawyers, and she says her former accountant failed to pay her taxes, almost resulting in a foreclosure on her $1.3 million home in Charlotte, N.C.
"My problem coming into this game was that I was very naive and very gullible," she said. "I can't continue to smile and believe that people are going to be the way that I am. And I'm not saying they're bad people. But you always have to be hands-on with your own stuff, and, unfortunately, I didn't know that and I didn't do that."
But it wasn't just strangers taking advantage of her Idol fame.
"So many people come out of the woodwork that are your cousins or your friends," she said. "People who want and need. And you wonder if people are being your friend because of you or because of who you are."
Last year, she started working out and eating better, and studying with a tutor to earn her GED. She was invited to tour nationally with The Color Purple and began working on her third album, which she thinks "will make or break me," and decided to let reality producers follow her since August.
Now she is surrounded by people she trusts. But that doesn't erase "the blessing and the curse" that has come with her success, she said.
The reality series covers a lot of this sensitive ground. It shows Fantasia picking up the pieces of her career while raising her 8-year-old-daughter and financially supporting her family of six.
Fantasia for Real also tracks the relationship between the singer and Sony Music, which is releasing her third album. Although it has taken long er than producers hoped, both Sony and Fantasia are optimistic that it will be released in the next few months.