By Noah Hubbell
By Leslie Simon
By Brad Lopez
By Tom Murphy
By Noah Hubbell
By Inkoo Kang
By Dave Herrerra
By Josiah M. Hesse
Just because Fantasia Barrino won American Idol last year doesn't mean that everything in her world is ideal. "When people see you on TV, they think you're a millionaire," she says, "but I work hard to have what I have, and I'm not, like, rich. Maybe it'll be like that someday, where we can sit back and cheer, but it isn't now, even though everyone thinks it is. I have friends from back home who call me and say, 'Why am I still living in the ghetto when you're my friend?' It's a lot of pressure."
Additional stress bubbled up in the wake of Life Is Not a Fairy Tale, Barrino's autobiography, which she assembled with the help of collaborator Kim Green. In the book, which was published mere months after her 21st birthday, Barrino offers an unvarnished portrait of High Point, North Carolina, which is both her home town and the self-proclaimed furniture capital of the world. Declarations such as "High Point is a depressing place for anyone who is not a furniture-store owner" miffed Kyle Sandler, a resident who launched a website called FantasiasLies.com and lobbied local officials to remove the billboard of Barrino that welcomes visitors to the community. Since meeting with the singer's father, Sandler has softened his rhetoric, but Barrino remains frustrated by what she sees as misinterpretations of her comments. "I wasn't saying the people are bad, and don't move there," she notes. "But there's not a lot of opportunity for people who want to be singers or models or things like that. There's talent there, but a lot of it is wasted because people end up in jail or dead or just there, like me. I was a young lady with talent who wasn't going anywhere."
To make matters worse, Barrino was raped by an acquaintance who never did time for his crime, and struggled in school because she was functionally illiterate. She's gotten positive feedback for talking about her reading difficulties -- not to mention offers of tutoring from numerous teachers. Fortunately, she no longer needs such help. "I'm reading movie scripts!" she exults. Barrino's also proud of resisting behind-the-scenes suggestions at American Idol that she downplay other aspects of her life, including her status as a high school dropout and unwed mother of a daughter, Zion, now four. "They were like, 'If you talk about it, maybe you might not get as many votes as you should,'" she recalls. "I thought about it, and decided maybe I can be a role model for those young ladies who did go down that road. I won't call it a mistake, but if I could have waited, I would have."
These days, Barrino tries to resist the urge to spoil Zion, which isn't easy. "It makes me happy when I can come home after not seeing her for a week or two and give her something," she concedes. "But as far as me saying, 'Zion, here's a credit card,' no. You have to be wise about everything."
After all, Fantasia is no millionaire. She's just an idol.