In late 2006, as her multitudes of adoring and loyal fans across North America and around the world contemplated the arrival of her eagerly anticipated second album, simply and aptly titled FANTASIA, the time was right to consider the facts: Her name indeed, had truly become a household word.
Say the name ‘Fantasia’ and virtually all previous connotations have now fallen by the wayside. It is dizzying to imagine the extent of her accomplishments over the past two and a half years – ever since her glorious win in May 2004 on the third season of FOX’s American Idol, her immediate signing to J Records by BMG U.S. Chairman & CEO Clive Davis, the release of “I Believe” four weeks later in (the first time in Billboard Hot 100 chart history that an artist debuted at 1 with her debut single, which stayed on top for 11 weeks), and the arrival of her RIAA platinum debut album in November, Free Yourself.
Since then, 22-year old Fantasia has gathered award nominations from every corner of the entertainment industry – the Grammy Awards, American Music Awards, Vibe Awards, Soul Train Awards and Soul Train “Lady of Soul” Awards, Billboard Music Awards and R&B & Hip Hop Awards, BET Awards, NAACP Image Awards, Teen Choice Awards – more than 20 nominations in all. Among the honors she has taken home are Outstanding Female Artist at the NAACP Image Awards; and Top-Selling R&B/Hip-Hop Single of the Year and Top-Selling Single of the Year for “I Believe” at the year-end Billboard Music Awards.
The down-to-earth star (and single mom) from High Point, North Carolina – who used a portion of her earnings to buy her mom a new home – officially entered the record books on July 10, 2004. That was when “I Believe” made its Billboard debut at 1, after setting a one-week 2004 Soundscan sales record in the process. The Free Yourself album ultimately spent 10 weeks in the Top 10 on the R&B Albums chart. The second single, “Truth Is” spent an astounding 13 consecutive weeks at 1 on the Urban Adult chart in the spring 2005, and had the most one-week airplay totals ever on an adult record in Billboard and Monitor history.
In June 2005, a full year after her debut single, Fantasia-fever was hotter than ever as she became the first female artist to have three of the top five songs on the Adult R&B chart (which began in 1994). Later that month, she became the first artist in history to chart two of the top three songs on the Adult R&B list, with “Truth Is” at 2 and “Free Yourself” at 3.
Fantasia’s success culminated in a New York Times best-selling autobiography, Life Is Not A Fairy Tale (Simon & Schuster, September 2005), a candidly revealing memoir that was adapted as a Lifetime original movie in August 2006. Directed by Debbie Allen, and starring Fantasia as herself, the inspirational biopic was seen by more than 19 million viewers, and ranked as the cable channel’s second most watched movie in its 22-year history.
In many ways, the movie liberated the artist, a state of affairs that is celebrated on FANTASIA. “I’ve let go of things from the past and I’m having a good time,” she reflects. “I was able to let go of the past with the Lifetime movie and now I’m on a whole different level. I worked with some really great people on this album like Missy Elliott, Dre & Vidal, Midi Mafia, and Swizz Beatz and I’m letting everyone know that I’ve moved on from where I was when I recorded my first album.”
FANTASIA positions the singer at the core of today’s hottest young artists – as if the tens of thousands who caught her on tour with Kanye West in 2006 needed any confirmation. Yet Fantasia’s undeniable old school vocal influence is apparent every¬where. Kicking off the album as its first single and opening track is “Hood Boy” (featur¬ing Big Boi from OutKast). “So many girls want a hood boy!” she says. Written by Johnta Austin and produced by Tone Mason, the track is destined for a long distance run at radio, with its clever sample from the Supremes’ vintage hit “The Happening.”
Fantasia’s list of A-list collaborators on the album continues with ardent supporter Missy Elliott. She co-wrote and produced three tracks on Free Yourself, including the title tune crossover hit “Free Yourself” (3 R&B and Top 40 pop), and now returns for another round. For FANTASIA, Missy co-wrote and produced “Bump What Your Friends Say,” “Two Weeks Notice,” and “I’m Not That Type.”
Fantasia gets together with production-songwriting duo Andre Harris & Vidal Davis on two cuts. The first, “I Nominate U,” leaves no doubt what’s on the singer’s mind: “It’s a very sexy song, one of those ‘kick back’ jams.” The second is “Baby Makin’ Hips,” instantly infectious with its underpinning courtesy of Al Green’s “I Tried To Tell Myself,” an edgy groove that finds Fantasia in her musical element: “It’s a real club joint and I feel like I’m representin’ – it’s like an anthem for women.” The old school two-step feel surfaces in “Surround U,” produced and co-written by Swizz Beatz (Kasseem Dean), and pushed along with a taste of James Brown’s “Cross The Tracks” as performed by Maceo Parker & The Macks in the ’80s.
“When I See U,” produced by Midi Mafia and Mzmeriq, “is about someone you might have a crush on,” Fantasia explains. “You find yourself writing his name on a paper, twenty-five times…and then when you see him, you just can’t say a word. My girls would tell me, ‘you need to say something,’ and I would never say a word!”
Elsewhere on the album, Kwamé Holland and Sean Garrett teamed up to provide Fantasia with “Not The Way That I Do”; Bryan-Michael Cox (known for his work with Mariah Carey and Mary J. Blige) brings “Only One U” to the program; newcomer Danja clocks in with “Uneligible” and “Bore Me (Yawn)”; and ubiquitous producer-songwriter Harold Lilly, whose “Baby Mama” was a highlight on Free Yourself, brings in “Sunshine.”
FANTASIA’s tour-de-force is its closing track, “I Feel Beautiful,” a big ballad with the emotion, passion and intensity that is the singer’s trademark. Composed by Diane Warren and produced in Los Angeles by Babyface, the song carries a lot of weight. “When I sat down with Diane,” Fantasia says, “my mother was really on my heart. I thought about all she’s been through and just seeing her smile now just feels so amazing. She and I have been through so many of the same things in life. When Diane asked me, I told her I was thinking about my Mom. She just starting playing this song on the guitar and she started humming, ‘I feel beautiful’ and I said, ‘that’s it!’ The lyrics on that song are very emotional for me and when I recorded it, I just broke down at the end. It’s my song for my Mom.”
Fantasia is justly proud of her creative involvement in her second album, but also confesses to being “nervous and excited” at the same time. “I know that in some ways, I’m like the ‘baby’ at the label because this is only my second record. But as an artist, you go out, you tour, you start to create your own thing. You start to have a vision for what you want. Clive Davis really allowed me to have a lot of creative input in making this record. I wanted to take people back in terms of doing real songs, bringing something new to the table, and keeping it ‘Fantasia,’ making an album you can chill with, groove with. You know, with that old school vibe – yet fresh.”
Fantasia credits being on the road with keeping her connected to her audience: “Sometimes, I pinch myself when I look out there and see all kinds of people, mothers, families, men, women, every race. It feels so good when they say, ‘Fantasia, you’re my girl. I voted for you!’ It can be overwhelming, but I’m so grateful to God for allowing me the opportunity to touch people with my music. It comes from a lot of prayer and having a supportive mom, supportive friends and family around me. I’m just so thankful.”
High points have been too numerous to count – ranging from a tender (though funny) send-up on The Simpsons, to her three appearances on NBC’s The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. She was the first former American Idol winner to reap four Grammy nominations in the same year, as she did in 2006, when she joined the all-star tribute to Sly Stone on the worldwide telecast. Of her many guest album appearances, the most fun was the fall 2006 movie soundtrack to the animated Happy Feet, on which Fantasia joined veterans Patti LaBelle and Yolanda Adams for a new trio version of Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish.”
Fantasia also cites her performance at the United Negro College Fund 2005 tribute to Stevie Wonder as a landmark, and singing for Elton John at The Kennedy Center. But topping them all was singing for Aretha Franklin at the 28th annual UNCF tribute in her honor in September 2006. “I mean singing ‘Rock Steady’ and ‘Baby I Love You’ right there in front of her… Meeting her afterwards, I was so nervous, all I could do was cry! I couldn’t say a word to her, I just cried!” The television special, “UNCF's An Evening Of Stars: Tribute To Aretha Franklin,” is scheduled to air in late-January 2007. The telecast coincides with the release of Aretha’s long-awaited new album, A Woman Falling Out Of Love, which will feature Fantasia’s duet with the Queen Of Soul on “Let Me Put You Up On Game.”
FANTASIA underscores the singer’s message of stepping up and stepping out. “I want to let the people who buy my music know that if I’m going to be any kind of role model or a person they look up to, then they have to ask the question I asked myself: ‘After the pain, where am I gonna go?’ You can’t hold on to the pain forever so you have to lift your head up, say, ‘that’s my past, now what’s next?’ For me, it’s a brand new Fantasia: I’m here to tell everyone that dreams DO come true, you can’t give up…and me, hey, I’m gonna ride this train till the wheels fall off!”
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