In advance of the second season of Fantasia for Real (premiering Sunday, September 19 at 10/9c), we spoke to Fantasia Barrino about living her life as an open book both on and off VH1. Fantasia has told the story of her recent suicide attempt already and, as we revealed yesterday in our post about her run-in with TMZ, she’s not interested in talking about it anymore. But a single incident is not really what fascinates us about her, anyway. Rather, it is how she handled the situation — instead of running from controversy like so many other celebrities would via requests for privacy, she faced it head-on. That’s part of the bigger picture of Fantasia, the woman who lives life boldly through her music, her show and her interviews. As she tells us below, “The things that I go through come to make me strong, make me a better woman and they are my testimony. So I just give them my testimony.”
Also discussed in the first part of our interview with Fantasia is why she bounced back from her suicide attempt so quickly (“I couldn’t afford to stay in that hole”) and the celebrities that reached out to her following her hospitalization, including Aretha Franklin, who gave Fantasia some firm, loving advice…
Throughout this ordeal, you’ve talked about being an open book. Instead of running from controversy, you discussed it. It’s atypical of celebrities to be so upfront. Why do you take that route?
I’ve been doing it since I was on the Idol. It was my first time being in Hollywood, and I’m a Southern girl from Highpoint North Carolina. We would have to do sit-down interviews and when I would answer certain questions, I had people come up to me like, “OK, wait. Maybe you might wanna not talk so much about your child cause you’re kinda losing votes when you say that word,” and blah blah. That’s what let me know that people want you to be something that you’re not. They want you to be Hollywood. They want you to create this whole fantasy life and live it. My thing was, “Well they asked me! Obviously they really wanted to know.” Also, when I would sing wherever I would go, my life and my music was what touched people. The reason is because people go through things. The people who go buy your music and the people who are coming to your shows, they’re real people who go through real-life situations. Just because we are celebrities doesn’t mean we are robots, so that’s when I came out with my book, Life is Not a Fairy Tale, just letting people know [that] my life wasn’t a Cinderella story. I didn’t have it all. Things didn’t come easy. I wasn’t born into a rich family. We struggled to have what we have. We fought to have what we have. There were many nights where we slept in the dark, and needed to light up candles…that’s who I am. That’s the artist I am. That’s what makes me and I think that’s what a lot of people respond to: “I can relate to Fantasia, I been through that same thing. I know what she’s talking about.” I’m human. I just have a gift to sing and I’d like to keep it that way. I guess during Idol, I decided hey, I am who I am and I’m gonna show that and be proud of it. The things that I go through come to make me strong, make me a better woman and they are my testimony. So I just give them my testimony.
Is there a downside to being so open with the world?
There can be. But then on the other end, you have a lot of celebrities who hide so much and when things come out then it’s like, “Oh my gosh! I didn’t even know, I can’t believe it.” I grew up listening to soul music. Being around my mom and my dad and uncles, they would all sing and they would always play Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Patti LaBelle, the Temptations, Earth Wind and Fire…all the greats. I remember back then, nobody cared who they were sleeping with or how many children they had. I just found out how many kids Aretha Franklin had and I’m a big, big fan of hers. I have some clips of Billie Holiday, ’cause I really love her. In one, she walks out on stage and she has on this ring. She flips the ring open and sniffs. I’m like, “Oh my god, this chick is sniffing coke on stage?” She had a whole audience full of people and nobody said nothing! It was like back then, they were just artists. They just could sing about their life and what they went through. Music has changed so much. It’s not even about the music anymore. They wanna know what you’re doing, what you did last week, who you’re sleeping with, oh let’s catch them walking out of the airport with a TMZ camera – let’s catch this, let’s catch that. And they have gone so far away from the music. At least I can sleep at night knowing that I don’t have to pretend for nobody.
Does being so open ever create awkward situations for you, though? Was it at all awkward, for example, when Wendy Williams asked you about your daughter in reference to your suicide attempt?
It was awkward, period. In [recent] interviews it’s the first thing I hear when I sit down. I have to be like, “Hold up, wait a minute. That’s not how we’re going to start this interview out and we weren’t even gonna talk about that.” But with Wendy, I was preparing myself and I told her people, “This is the last time I’m talking about it. I ain’t going on Oprah, this is it. I don’t wanna speak about it anymore.” It was strange, though. It’s always strange when they ask me stuff about that ’cause I have to relive that moment. The blessing about it is that my daughter’s totally clueless to everything, and I want keep her that way as long as I can. I didn’t even let her see my Lifetime movie because there are certain things in there I don’t want her to see, I don’t want her to know. I don’t want her to have any anger with her father. When she gets to a certain age, yeah, I will probably sit her down and lay everything on the table like, “OK, here. This is what made your mommy who she is today…”
Did having a reality production around you complicate your whole situation over the past two months?
To be honest with you, sometimes, I would forget they were there because of how long they’ve been with us. They became family, really. But I kinda scared the cameras away from me for a while and they would record with Teeny or Bunny. I just stayed in my room for a good week. No cameras, no nobody. I didn’t want to be bothered with nobody. The only time I came out of my room was when it was time for Zion’s birthday party and I had to get up and I had to get out. I was depressed but I kinda just lost the drive with everything. I lost the drive with the cameras, I lost the drive with the music. And you know, I spent three years working on my album and that was the best thing to me: that album, that album, that album. And I just kinda lost the drive, all of that. So I sent the cameras away for a very long time. The day that everything happened and I was on my way out of the house, I’m pretty sure they would’ve loved to catch that. And I’m not gonna say it like they don’t care for me, because they do. All my camera people came to my hospital in the days after and were like, “Don’t you ever do no s*** like that again. We love you, we are not just camera people. We f***in’ love you.” They’re not just people behind cameras. They really have a love for me and my family. The experience really opened my eyes to a lot of things I really needed to know that was very important to me. And it wasn’t about the record company, it wasn’t about the album, it wasn’t about the glitz and the glam, it wasn’t about none of that. That’s what I was running from. I wanted out of all of that. That’s what was getting on my last nerve. But it let me know that my Mom, my brothers (who I fuss and fight with everyday), my Auntie Bunny, my manager, my best friend Tim, my cousins, my friends — all of these people were right there when I opened my eyes. They were right there by my side. The cameramen, everybody from VH1, everybody from J Records, they all were there like, “Hey, forget it. Take what you need, do what you need and we’re praying for you.” And I think that’s just something I needed to know being that there are people that really do love me.
What’s amazing to me is then you picked yourself right back up. It was a matter of days before you were out and about.
To be honest with you, I couldn’t afford to stay in that hole. During the first season [of Fantasia for Real], we talked about how everything was wrong in my life, and things were going downhill and I almost lost it all. It’s a blessing that I’m back up and working but I’m still fighting my way to get in a comfortable place, because so much was lost, because so much was mishandled. I don’t work to sit back and kick my feet up and say, “I need a couple of days off.” I work to fix the problems that were going on, I work to pay off debt, I work to make sure my daughter can go to school everyday cause her tuition is very expensive. I don’t know when I’ll be able to sit back and say, “I’m not gonna work for a month.” That’s nowhere in my schedule right now but that’s OK. I’m blessed to even be back up and working, I’m blessed to even have an album out. So coming out of the situation, I couldn’t afford to say, “I need to take a month off,” and I would say I don’t even think I was ready. After you do something like that they get crazy and make you speak with a doctor. At first I was totally against it but I’m just glad that I was able to do that. I’m really glad I’m still able to do that. And even a year down, two years down the line, I’ll probably still go to see this man because it just makes me feel a lot better. I’m able to release so much. After him talking to me, I was like, “You know what, Tasia? You can do it. You can do it and you can just go be who you are. Be the person that you are. Be Tasia, be real!” And everybody goes through that. What’s crazy is when it all came out a lot of celebrities were calling me, and this goes back to the question you asked me in the very beginning about why celebrities cover up so much. They were like, “Oh my God, I went through the same thing. I’m going through that now.” And they hide so much. And I’m not trying to put nobody on blast and however they wanna do it. Whatever floats their boat, that’s on them. But because I am that person that comes out with so much, people were so amazed like, “Yo, you inspired me to be able to be so open and so strong and not ashamed.” I’m like, “Yo, we as people should never be ashamed. We were put on this earth for a reason: life.” That’s all I can say. Life throws us things. Life will throw you some things that you are just not ready for. You know what we say? “A preacher can’t preach to me if he ain’t been through nothing.” I can’t go sit down and listen to a preacher if he’s perfect, because what can you sing to me? How can you encourage me? I need somebody who’s been through something. I need somebody who’s had their back up against the wall at one point and came out of it. Tell me how you came out of it because maybe I can take your same ingredients and put it in my life and I could come up out of it too.
Did you hear from Mariah Carey at all? When you were describing your frustration with the industry, it reminded me a lot of her 2001 breakdown.
I didn’t hear from Mariah, but I heard from Aretha Franklin. I heard from Charlie Wilson. I heard from Monica, Missy Elliott, Toni Braxton, Snoop Dogg…you know, people that I didn’t even think could understand, but everybody was reaching out to me and the first thing they said was, “Look, we love you. Pick yourself up.” Aretha told me, and these are Aretha’s exact words, “Tell her to stay away from the press and take her ass back to work.” Haha. She’s like the only woman that I get nervous with. I get so nervous, I won’t talk. I’m like, what am I gonna say? So [my manager] Brian just put her on speakerphone and those were her exact words. I was like, you know what? It’s cool, it’s cool. Because again, that’s life.
The second part of our interview tomorrow will focus on the upcoming season of Fantasia for Real and why its star probably won’t be watching…