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Authors: Fantasia

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Life Is Not a Fairy Tale

BOOK: Life Is Not a Fairy Tale
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FIRESIDE

Rockefeller Center

1230 Avenue of the Americas

New York, NY 10020

Copyright © 2005 19 Merchandising Ltd.

American Idol
photographs copyright © Fremantle Media

North America, Inc. & 19 TV Ltd.

Family photos courtesy of the Fantasia Barrino family.

Additional photos courtesy of Kim Green.

All rights reserved,

including the right of reproduction

in whole or in part in any form.

F
IRESIDE
and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Designed by Ruth Lee-Mui

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Fantasia.

Life is not a fairy tale / Fantasia.

p. cm.

1. Fantasia. 2. Singers—United States—Biography. I. Title.

ML420.F235A3 2005

782.421643’092—dc22

2005052081

ISBN-13: 978-1-4165-3186-9
ISBN-10: 1-4165-3186-6

Visit us on the World Wide Web:

http://www.SimonSays.com

This book is dedicated to the

most important person in my life, Zion.

Everything I do, I do for you, baby.

Introduction

O
ne night
during the
American Idol
competition, Simon Cowell commented on the dance that I had been doing after every song I sang. Walking toward the edge of the stage to hear what the judges had to say was always my least favorite part of the competition. After every song, no matter how good I thought it sounded, my heart would sink, knots would fill my stomach, and my head would suddenly ache with worry about what I was going to hear from the judges. I worried most about Simon. This time, instead of talking about my clothes or my hair or telling me I sounded like Donald Duck, Simon asked, “Fantasia, what is that dance that you do all the time?” Trying to think on my feet, I said, “That’s the BoBo!” I made up that word on the spot. I don’t even know where it came from or what pushed it out of my mouth. What I should have said was, “That’s me gettin’ my praise on.”

The BoBo is my victory dance. I get my praise on for everything and for nothin’ at all. I thank God for my health, strength, and my daughter’s working body parts. My BoBo is my way of givin’ praise for all of the blessings I receive. When I’m doing my BoBo, I’m aware of all of those who can’t do the little things that I’m blessed enough to do.

Everything changed for me during the
American Idol
competition. Just weeks before, me gettin’ my praise on was just a personal thing that me and my family did all the time to thank God for what He had done for us and what He would do in the future. Suddenly, even the smallest things about me and my family mattered to the whole world. Everything that was once personal to me and my family was now public…like having to explain the BoBo. Everything was different for me. I didn’t even recognize myself sometimes. I suddenly had some money in my pocket. I was on TV every week. I had a busy schedule and so many people involved with my daily activities. It was like having ten babysitters. I was meeting all kinds of professionals that I didn’t even know had a profession. I had heard of makeup artists, but I never dreamed of someone actually being paid to put makeup on me. I had heard of professional dancers, but I had never met a choreographer. I always thought those people were just dance teachers.

I had spent months on this roller-coaster ride of acting like I knew where I was or what I was doing, but the only moments when I really felt like myself were the moments when I was singin’.

During the competition, I was loving the attention and all the fans who really seemed to love me. They wanted to hug me when they saw me on the street, and sometimes they would run after the car I got in after one of my producers would let me know it was time to stop huggin’ folks. I thought those days were crazy. But on the big day, May 26, 2004, when Ryan Seacrest announced my name as the winner of the 2004
American Idol,
my life changed forever.

Suddenly, I had little boys in wheelchairs wanting my autograph and to take a picture with
me.
I had little girls running up to me in airports and saying, “Look Fantasia,
I
can do the BoBo!” The world had made a dance out of my worshippin’ God. I was amazed. And I was a little scared.

I would drive up to shows in different cities—places that I had never been before—and there would be
American Idol
signs all over the place. Small children would be crying from their excitement, and their mothers had to calm them down by stroking their heads. I noticed little girls had gotten their hair cut to look just like mine. Mothers were running with their babies just to get close to the car I was in. I would shrink in fear of what they would do when they saw me. I wasn’t worried they would hurt me, I was worried they would be disappointed when they saw me in person. What if I didn’t look like I did on TV? What if my lips were even bigger than they thought? What if they thought I was too ugly to be the American Idol? What if they had made a mistake by voting for me? What if my mascara was runnin’ because I was cryin’ so much? Those were the things that would be flashin’ in my head as the limousine pulled up to the stage entrance.

The other thing that would flash through my head was how could I possibly thank them all? Sometimes it was ten thousand people waiting to see
me.
They were wanting to touch me, wanting me to see
them,
wanting me to say something to them that they would never forget. My palms would sweat and my mouth would be dry from the pressure and the excitement of knowing that this was really happening to me. I just kept cryin’, prayin’, huggin’, smilin’, and askin’ the Lord to get me through those moments like a professional singer, not the messy country girl who had never been too far out of North Carolina.

I thought that being a singer would be enough. Singin’ is all I could do, up to that point. I had never learned to deal with so many different types of people. I had never had to see, touch, and smell so many different cultures and vibes. I had never had to love so many people, and I actually
did.
I loved them all for loving me and wanting to see me and touch me, but it was overwhelming at times and I wanted to run and hide. Especially on those days that it rained or it was too hot to wear the outfit that had been chosen for me. Or the times I didn’t feel good. Or the days after the nights that I hadn’t slept because Zion had been crying on the phone to me. Or the days that I was just feeling guilty for being there inside of this limousine with ten thousand people needing me, while Zion needed me the most.

The excitement of winning has been overwhelming. I have not been used to this much attention in my life except for compliments about my voice and a lot of negative talk about the mistakes in my life. Getting the key to High Point from the mayor left me speechless. I think, How did ’Tasia become the “favorite daughter,” when once I was the bad girl to everyone in town?

My shock about all of this comes from the fact that I’m just like these people who come out to see me, who wait in the mall for me, who send me portraits of me that they drew. Just like them, I’m excited by somebody who accomplished somethin’, hopin’ that their good luck could somehow rub off on me…but now that “somebody” is me and
I am trippin’.

Truth be told, I’m just a young Christian woman with a complicated story to tell. It probably doesn’t seem complicated for the girls, like me, who take our laughter and tears in equal doses and feel every day that all the stuff that we go through is just the way life goes. My life only seems complicated for the people who have never been where I started. People who have never even
visited
a poor community where dreams are simply something you do when you sleep.

Most people would never believe some of the things that I’ve been through, but I’m going to tell you about how I started doing adult things way before I even knew what I was doing. I’m also going to tell you the consequences of those things. I have suffered consequences that I hope even adults will never have to suffer.

I got the idea to write this book because my life has changed in a way that makes me feel like I’m going to bust with nervousness, excitement, confusion, and fear all at once. I couldn’t hold all those feelings in anymore. I have been through some crazy things, and I’m finally comfortable enough to talk about them. I can even sit back and laugh at some of them. I still cry about many of them, though. I hope that what I have been through may help people of all ages and nationalities. I hope that this book shows that it is possible to change, no matter what you have done or what has been done to you.

Lastly, I feel like I can say, Chase your dreams, no matter what people say, no matter what
seems
like it is in your way.

Life isn’t a fairy tale. It’s a real life story—
yours.
Only you can make your own happy ending. Dreams are not just for sleeping.

1.
Recognize

 
Your

      
Gift

T
he Bible
and my mother always say, “To whom much is given, much is required.” That is how I live my life—now. But it wasn’t always that way. For most of my young life, much was
not
given. Maybe this saying means that much
hardship
has to be given before receiving the blessings that God intends.
A lot
has been required. But my experiences have shown me that the amount of pain you endure will eventually result in abundance, as long as you stay faithful.

Faith is a legacy for many women in my family, as are the legacies of teen pregnancy, being single mothers, emotional and physical abuse, and poverty. We have all survived it because of the church and our powerful belief in God and prayer. All of the women in my family have had too many experiences for their years, and we seem much older than we are. Most people are surprised that I’m only twenty-one years old. But what seems mature and experienced is just me trying to survive. I have learned and seen a lot in my twenty-one years, but I still have a lot to learn. You will see that as you learn more about Fantasia.

People often ask me:
Who is the real Fantasia?
The answer is:
What you see is what you get.
I would consider myself a very sensitive, outgoing person, and I hope that shows in everything I do and how I treat everyone around me. I care very much about people, probably too much—and I fall in love too easily, as you will see. I am just a country girl who loves the Lord and loves to have a good time. I still kick off my shoes every chance I get—even on TV!

Like all southern folk, I like to have a good time. Country people have had too many bad times, and so we make a good time whenever we can. Although my family lived in High Point, North Carolina, which is technically a small city, we say that this is the country because we have seen big cities like L.A. and New York on TV. Country people place a lot of importance on their families. We rely on our families for every little thing like emotional support, takin’ care of our kids, feeding us when we’re hungry, or paying our electric bill when we lose our jobs. That’s why family is so important to country folks. That’s why when you go to the country you will see aunts and uncles living under the same roof with their mothers and other adults. That’s why so many grandmothers raise their grandkids when the mothers are too young to handle it. Country folks are really different from city folks because the city folks seem ashamed to tell their families when they are having hard times. For us, hard times are just a way of life. That’s the main difference between country folk and city folk that you should know when you read the rest of my story. There is no shame with families like mine. If there was, there would be no families where I come from.

Despite the turmoils and troubles I’ve had in my life, the things that have always been constants were my mother’s support and love. Even when she couldn’t be there for me, she kept me lifted in prayer. When I was a teenager and was goin’ through so many hardships, my mother was always with me. Really, she
is
me in many ways.

But let me explain by starting at the beginning. My forty-two-year-old mother, Diane Barrino, is a self-proclaimed “country girl” who got pregnant as a teenager. She was nineteen years old. I would say that in some ways, she was luckier than me, and in other ways, I was luckier than her. You’ll see as you read my story that much hardship has been required of both of us.

My mother was also raised in the church because her mother, Addie Collins, is a pastor. Just like me, my mother got pregnant by a guy in the church. Of course, she was a singer too and a member of the choir. It was her love of music that brought her together with my father, Joseph. He was in the church quartet and had been asking a lot of questions about my mama. He finally got her phone number, and they started dating. My mother tells us kids that she didn’t like my father at first. Mom fell in love with him when she heard him sing. He was able to teach my mother a lot about music because, despite loving it so much, she didn’t know anything except how to sing. In her early days, my mother was a
baad
singer. She was raw. She could squall, and her cry sounded like an old woman with many years of grief and wisdom in her spirit.

My mother did have some grief in her past: My grandfather, who was originally from South Carolina, was an alcoholic and abused my grandmother. Grandfather Neil eventually left my grandmother and she was left to raise her three daughters on her own. Grandma Addie’s oldest was also named Addie; then there was Diane (my mama), and Surayda. My Grandma Addie had the same dreams for my mother that my mother had for me. Addie’s dream was that my mother would go to music school. Right before my mother’s pregnancy, Addie had taken her to look at music schools, and they hoped that she would get a scholarship.

Addie had always warned my mother, if you get pregnant you won’t be able to follow your dream and become a singer. You won’t get to do what the other girls do like go to the movies. And, if you get pregnant, Addie warned, “You will be on your own—no man will help you, and I don’t have much to help you with either.”

Within twelve months of my parents meeting, my older brother, Kassim VonRico Washington, was born. We call him Rico for short. At the time, my parents were not married, and so his last name is my mother’s maiden name. After Rico was born, my mother got a job working in the cafeteria at the Presbyterian Nursing Home while Addie took care of Rico.

Then, eleven months later, my other brother, Joseph, who is named after my father, was born. His nickname is Tiny. That is all we have ever called him.

Family rumor has it that my father’s family has Cuban lineage, which would explain my last name—kind of unusual for a black southern man from North Carolina. My father, JoJo, was more gracious than my own “baby daddy.” He actually agreed to marry my mother and take care of their two sons. That’s why I sometimes say that Mama was luckier than me.

The marriage must have been going well enough because three years later I was born, making the Barrino family five. Grandma Addie was a strong supporter of my parents, sometimes financially, but mostly helping when my mama didn’t have enough food for her kids. Most importantly, Addie will go down in history as the woman who crowned me with the crazy name, Fantasia. My grandmother got the name from the Princess House line of fine crystal and gifts. The Fantasia line was supposed to be one of the fancier lines of the gifts. Perhaps my grandmother knew something that I didn’t know about how I would turn out.

My parent’s marriage was still going strong because nine years later, the Barrino family became six when my mother had my little brother, Xavier. When we kids were small, my mother worked several odd jobs trying to pay the family’s seventy-dollar-a-month rent. She worked at hospitals, daycare centers, and sang for anyone in the church who would ask her to sing at their family weddings and funerals.

My father was a truck driver and was away a lot of the time, also tryin’ to make ends meet. They struggled along to pay the utility bill, asking for help from whoever had it that month. Even though my father was not at home much, he had a presence in our house. I loved my father because he
stayed.
Most of the kids who lived around us didn’t have daddies. The daddies had left, were in jail, or dead. My father seemed to have so much power in anything he did. I will never forget the sound of his boots walking down the hall in the morning. That sound always made me feel secure and that we were better off than the other kids because we had a daddy. I remember secretly watching him from the crack of the bathroom door, which he left open as he shaved. He was always wearing jeans and an undershirt. I thought my daddy was the most handsome man in the world, and I remember watching him worry about every wavy black hair, making sure they were perfect. My father always smelled good, and the strong smell of his aftershave would linger long after he had left the house. His smell just put fear and discipline into my heart and kept me on my best behavior until he came back. All he had to do to discipline me was to
look
at me. When he was coming home from off the road, we just all knew that the king had arrived.

High Point, North Carolina, is about an hour and a half north of Charlotte. We moved several times to Charlotte and Winston-Salem, neighboring cities that sometimes had better opportunities for my father. We always came back to High Point, though. High Point is actually a very small city with less than 100,000 residents. It is most famous for the furniture outlets where both rich and middle-class people come to buy furniture at wholesale prices. High Point’s downtown area is sprinkled with furniture strip malls, and in between the small wood-frame and shingled houses throughout the city, there are churches with names that I will never forget, like Charity Baptist Church, Living Water Baptist Church, Church of Christ, and Galilean Missionary Church. Faith and furniture are the main resources in High Point, North Carolina.

People from High Point are not usually rich. It is a city of workin’ folks, and the only money that comes into the city is the money from the bargain hunters looking for furniture. Most people in High Point don’t have a lot to be proud of, but they do take pride in being from the furniture capital.

As you drive toward High Point north from Charlotte, the first city is Thomasville, named after the famous furniture manufacturer. The very next city along Interstate 85 is High Point. Although High Point is a major destination throughout the South, it still has a two-lane road as if the city is afraid that one day the people will stop comin’. As you enter High Point, you can feel the pressure of the city as you’re trapped in a traffic jam. The first local spot that you see on 85 North heading into High Point is the Paradise Hotel, which people say is where the drug addicts stay when they’ve been evicted. My friends used to call High Point the “Land of the Dead,” because it was so hard for people to get their voices heard, musically or otherwise. Now, as you cross the city line, there is a billboard of my face that says “Saluting High Point’s American Idol, Fantasia Barrino.” I still have a hard time looking at it because I can’t believe it’s there. There is a lot of musical talent in High Point, but no one ever seems to get out far enough to show it to the world or to get a billboard. Most of the people that I knew there ended up strung out on drugs, became drunks, went to jail, had too many kids, or died.

Now, when I drive through the streets of High Point, I’m always happy to see the same old men sitting on the side of Washington Street, drinkin’ and tryin’ to have a good time. They make me remember that just a few years ago that was Rico, Tiny, and me playing outside with no shoes on. I remember when some of those drunk men used to stumble by when they had their bottle of gin already and an extra dollar and would say, “Come on over here and sing me a song, and I will give you a dollar.” I used to stop whatever I was doing, sing the men a song, and get a dollar to buy candy at the Candy Lady who was parked on the corner. Since I was five, singing has always been my life and my livelihood.
Ain’t nothin’ changed.

People are poor in High Point because there are not a lot of jobs. If you don’t work in a furniture showroom, a hospital, a school, a nursing home, High Point University, a restaurant, or a gas station, there isn’t really much more to do. Like I said, my mother worked many jobs to support us. My mother struggled along with Grandma basically raising Rico while she worked and my father was out on the road. After Tiny was born, my father started making more of an effort to take care of his family. My father still wanted to be involved with singing and so did my mother, despite having two little boys. My parents would sing at any opportunity that came to them.

The grandchildren called my father’s father “PaPa.” PaPa was a singer, too. He was around during the time of the Chitlin’ Circuit. The Chitlin’ Circuit was a tour route that was only for black artists and it was only in the South. It was the only place that a black singer could get a gig. It was hard on the Chitlin’ Circuit, because although it was designed for black singers, it was still the South and sometimes bad things happened to the musicians that were travelin’ in the South. PaPa never got over that. He has a lot of anger and no trust for the music industry, so he wouldn’t let his sons leave and try to earn a living as musicians. The older brothers rebelled and went anyway, but my father, the youngest, was not allowed to go. The Barrino Brothers consisted of my uncle Perry, uncle Jute, and uncle Nate. They traveled all around the Carolinas singin’ and makin’ music. All of my grandfather’s boys, including my young father, were so in love with music. I don’t think my father ever got over not being able to sing with his brothers and his anger over that motivated him to make his own band and put me where I am today.

My earliest memory of music was when I was about five years old. My parents used to sing at weddings and they would take us along. Their big wedding song was Natalie Cole’s “Inseparable.” They used to sing it and it sounded so good to me. All kinds of feelings would wash over me when I heard them singin’ that song. I would watch them and I could actually feel the love that song was tryin’ to express. It made me think that being married was a great thing.

Rico and I would imitate them in the bathroom at home. We would imitate all the facial expressions and hand gestures. We would stand up on the toilet and make sure our facial expressions made us look like our parents. My brother used to practice putting his hand underneath my chin, just like my father used to do to my mother.

One day, my parents heard us imitating them and came to see our bathroom show. They were impressed, and the next time they sang at a wedding, my father introduced Rico and me as the “couple” who was going to perform “Inseparable.” We were shocked that my father did that, but we had practiced it so much in the bathroom, we just knew we could do it. I remember walking to the microphone. I was nervous at first. Remember, I was just five. I looked over at Rico, and he smiled at me and made me feel better. The first note that I hit made the bathroom scene come to life for me and I was no longer nervous. The further along in the song we got, the more I could feel the audience’s reaction.

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