In 2004, she released her debut single, I Believe, which debuted at the top spot of the Billboard Hot 100, making Barrino the first recording artist in history to debut at the number one spot with a debut single. Subsequently, she released her debut album, Free Yourself, which went on to be certified Platinum by the RIAA and garnered Barrino four Grammy nominations in 2006. In 2006, she released her second album, Fantasia, which featured the number-one R&B hit When I See U. The album was certified Gold by the RIAA and received three Grammy nominations in 2008. She then played the part of Celie in the Broadway musical The Color Purple. Her third studio album is set to be released in early 2010.
Fantasia made an immediate impression on American Idol with her stylized gospel-influenced sound, and her explosive stage presence Her audition version of Tina Turner's "Proud Mary" made her an early favorite in the competition. Her standout performance during the course of the show was a heartfelt staging of the Porgy and Bess standard "Summertime" that left her in tears from "feeling the song" and earned praise from the judges—Randy Jackson has called it the best performance in the show's history—and was named to the Emmy Awards's 2004 list of greatest television moments.
For the final performance of the season, Fantasia offered a second performance of "Summertime" that again drew enormous praise from the judges; Simon Cowell remarked that she was the best contestant to ever compete in any competition, including the more than seventy Idol champions crowned nationally and internationally since the show began its first global incarnations. On the finale, over sixty-five million votes were cast in order to determine the winner on May 26, 2004, up from twenty-four million in 2003. It was the highest finale vote in the show's history until the May 23, 2007 American Idol (season 6) finale. In the end Fantasia defeated runner-up Diana DeGarmo by 1.3 million votes. At age nineteen, Fantasia was the youngest American Idol winner until May 23, 2007, when the 17 year-old Jordin Sparks won the title.
Fantasia participated in the U.S. tour with the other American Idol finalists and appeared in the 2004 Christmas special, Kelly, Ruben and Fantasia: Home For the Holidays.
Barrino's brother auditioned for the eighth season of American idol but failed to make it to Hollywood.
Barrino is one of only three winners, the others being Ruben Studdard, and most recently, Kris Allen, to have landed in the bottom 3 or 2, which she did twice, making her the only winner of the series who landed in the bottom group on more than one occasion.
2004–2005: Free Yourself
In June 2004, Fantasia released her debut single, "I Believe", which later debuted at number-one on the Billboard Hot 100. This number-one debut made Fantasia the first artist in history to achieve this with a first single. On the sales chart, the single spent eleven consecutive weeks at number one, giving it the longest consecutive stay on top of that chart for an American Idol contestant. The CD single, "I Believe", went on to become the top selling single of 2004 in the U.S., and has since been certified double platinum by the CRIA. Barrino also won three Billboard Music Awards for the single.
Fantasia released her debut studio album, Free Yourself, in November 2004. It debuted at number eight on the Billboard 200, selling 240,000 copies in its first week. To date, it has sold over two million copies worldwide, and was certified platinum in the U.S. The singles "Truth Is" and "Free Yourself" became R&B hits, reaching number two and number three respectively on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, while the controversial "Baby Mama"—which critics accused of romanticizing single motherhood—reached the top twenty. Barrino did even better on the Billboard Hot Adult R&B Airplay, where she was the first artist of any kind to simultaneously have two of the top three songs, and "Truth Is" spent fourteen weeks at the number one position. Barrino was named the number-one artist of the Adult Urban Contemporary format for 2005 according to the December 13, 2005 issue of Billboard magazine.
Through spring and winter of 2005, Fantasia made many television appearances to promote her album. She played Aretha Franklin in an episode of the series American Dreams, singing "Respect", guest voiced on The Simpsons episode "A Star Is Torn", and guest starred as herself in a cameo role on the sitcom All of Us. She appeared three times as a musical guest on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. On March 25, 2005, Fantasia performed at the thirty-sixth NAACP Image Awards in honor of Illinois Senator Barack Obama after winning the award for Outstanding Female Artist. In May 2005, Fantasia went on her first tour with her own live band, with soul singers Kem and Rashaan Patterson. She also appeared as a headliner at several music festivals including the Saint Lucia Jazz Festival and the Reggae Sumfest in Jamaica. In October 2005, she received good notices as an opening act for Kanye West's Touch the Sky Tour.
2006–2007: Fantasia and The Color Purple on Broadway
In 2006, Barrino was nominated for four Grammy Awards for her debut album. Though she didn't win any of them, she performed at the 48th annual telecast with several artists including Aerosmith, Joss Stone, John Legend, Maroon 5, and Ciara in an all-star tribute to Sly and the Family Stone during the Grammy Award show.
In August 2006, Fantasia played herself in a Lifetime Television film based on her autobiography Life Is Not a Fairy Tale. The film was directed by Debbie Allen and debuted on the women’s cable network on Saturday, August 19, 2006. The movie received nineteen million viewers throughout its debut weekend. Life Is Not a Fairy Tale: The Fantasia Barrino Story has also become Lifetime's second most viewed program of all time.
Fantasia had many musical collaborations during the fall of 2006 including a remake of The Clark Sisters' "Endow Me" which featured Faith Evans, Lil' Mo, and Coko of SWV, a remake of Stevie Wonder's 1976 song "I Wish" with Patti LaBelle and Yolanda Adams for the soundtrack to the 2006 computer-animated film Happy Feet, and most notably her duet with Aretha Franklin which was recorded at that time and later released in 2007. She released her self-titled second effort, Fantasia, on December 12, 2006. The album involved production by Missy Elliott, Swizz Beatz, Babyface, Diane Warren, and others, and has since spawned the singles "Hood Boy" produced by Tone Mason, "When I See U", and "Only One U" and went on to be certified gold. "When I See You" became her first single to top the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, remaining at the number one spot for eight consecutive weeks.
February 2007, Fantasia appeared and performed on American Idol, and announced that she would be starring in the lead role of Celie in the Broadway musical The Color Purple, the hit musical based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1982 novel of the same name by Alice Walker. After appearing on American Idol and The Oprah Winfrey Show, the musical received a boost of over two million in pre-ticket sales in one week. Leading up to her first performance on April 10, 2007 the play garnered a total of 6.5 million in pre-ticket sales.
While in the role, Fantasia earned rave reviews for her performance. Long-time Broadway critic Clive Barnes of the New York Post went on to say "...there is some elemental quality to Fantasia that is either greatness or something close to it." Upon her warm welcome to the stage Fantasia was asked to perform at the 2007 Tony Awards in a tribute to Atlanta's Alliance Theater in which The Color Purple got its start. In recognition of an outstanding stage debut performance, Fantasia was given the Theatre World Award and the Best Replacement Star Broadway.com Award. Fantasia was initially scheduled for a limited six-month engagement ending in October 2007 but had her run extended until January 6, 2008. The Color Purple box office saw a thirty-four-million-dollar jump in sales since Barrino started in the show, a third of the play's 100 million dollar earning since its debut in 2005. The New York Post reported that Barrino missed nearly fifty performances in the show, causing the producers to give back tens of thousands of dollars in refunds. In the September 2008 issue of Sister 2 Sister magazine, Barrino revealed that the reason for her absences in The Color Purple was because of the development of a cyst on her vocal cords. She was ordered to immediately undergo surgery which later revealed that she in fact had a tumor on her vocal cords. She now reports that after a successful surgery, the tumor was completely removed and she is now well.
2008–present: New album, new film and new show
Fantasia received three Grammy nominations for her sophomore release, Fantasia and is currently in the studio working on her third album to be released in 2010. She stated on the red carpet of the 2008 Grammy Awards that the style of her new album will be a blending of the avenues she has touched musically, which include American Idol and Broadway. She also revealed that she will be writing songs and will collaborate again with Missy Elliott, The Underdogs, and Midi Mafia, who produced one of her biggest hits, "When I See U".
It was confirmed that Midi Mafia will be producing the majority of Fantasia's next album. Also, hip hop duo Rock City had been confirmed to be writing on the new project. At the time, they had recorded four songs together. She has also worked with Songwriter/Producer Rich King (Brandy "1st and love", Randy Jackson Music club vol.1, John Legend "Quickly") in which she has presently recorded two songs with for her upcoming release. KP, Eric Hudson and Raphael Saadiq are a few names also mentioned to be involved. Fantasia confirmed that about 75% of her album is complete, and that fans should expect a single in the fall. The album will be released early 2010. In recording the new album, Fantasia decided to do a great deal of it the "old fashioned way," inviting a live orchestra to record in the studio with her.
Fantasia was cast by Oprah Winfrey as Celie in the film adaptation of The Color Purple musical, which is to begin production after the release of her third album.
On June 26, 2008, Entertainment Weekly reported that Fantasia was dropped from 19 Entertainment because of creative differences; she will remain with 19 Recordings and J Records. She also revealed that after the release of her third album, she plans to release a gospel album. She performed with her mother, Diane Barrino, in a Thanksgiving special on BET's Bobby Jones Gospel. Fantasia appeared on Jennifer Hudson's self-titled album, on the song "I'm His Only Woman", which was nominated for a 2009 Grammy.
It had been confirmed that Fantasia will reprise the role of Celie in the national tour of The Color Purple during its Washington D.C., Chicago, Atlanta, and Los Angeles stops. Fantasia had confirmed that she will be the star of her own reality show produced by World of Wonder. The show is titled Fantasia for Real and will premiere January 11, 2010 at 10pm on Vh1.
The as-yet-untitled CD due on July 13,2010 will capture the melodic storytelling qualities of earlier Fantasia hits like "Truth Is" and "When I See You," reflecting the pain and tears of relationship turbulence. "We want to honor that sound," RCA/Jive Label Group senior VP of A&R Keith Naftaly says. "But Fantasia is very much a warm, fun-loving spirit. So there is a lot of optimism and triumph on the album as well." The songwriter and producer lineup includes Carlos "Los Da Mystro" McKinney and Rico Love, Chris "Tricky" Stewart, Novel, Jim Jonsin and Claude Kelly, whom, Naftaly says, has an "amazing way of decoding things in Fantasia's head and turning them into incredible songs." Missy Elliott and John Legend pitch in with songs as well. Recorded tracks range from "Can't Be Without You," a reimagination of Dorothy Moore's 1976 R&B/pop hit "Misty Blue," to the Lauryn Hill-influenced "Trust Him" and "The Thrill Is Gone" (not the B.B. King classic), featuring Cee-Lo. Also on tap, Naftaly adds, is a rock song that "will enable Fantasia to unleash her inner Tina Turner.
On February 2, 2010, "Even Angels", produced by The Stereotypes and written by Heather Bright, was released as the first single off Fantasia's upcoming album. She performed the song on The Oprah Winfrey Show on Wednesday, February 3, 2010.
On March 28, 2010, Fantasia performed "America the Beautiful" at WWE WrestleMania XXVI.
She has announced that her third album will be released July 13, 2010.
A new single titled titled “Bittersweet”, is now being billed as the album's ‘first’ official single. It will be sent to Urban radio in the U.S. on May 11, 2010.
Autobiography and illiteracy
In September 2005 Fantasia published a memoir, dictated to a freelance writer, titled Life Is Not a Fairy Tale. The book became a New York Times Bestseller, reaching number seven on the list. In it she revealed that she is functionally illiterate and was unable to read the text of contracts she signed or to read to her then four-year-old daughter.