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Exclusive: Fantasia Shares How Celibacy And Fasting Ultimately Led Her To Love And Happiness

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“I'm sorry. My momma is tryna talk to me while I'm on the phone with you," Fantasia Barrino apologizes in a soft-toned small voice over the phone. It's quite surreal to be speaking to the woman I casted votes for on American Idol when I was just 16 years old. Back then, my entire family tuned in weekly, completely captivated by the North Carolina native's soulful performances. I vividly remember how she'd bend and transform classics like "Chain Of Fools" and make them her own. Little Patti LaBelle, as she was quickly nicknamed, would sweat, kick off her shoes and allow her gospel roots to shine. She gave everything.

Now, after 13 years of career highs and personal lows, the 32-year-old singer is in the middle of discussing “I Made It," a song from her new album The Definition Of... that puts her church roots and rock influences on full display. It's also her favorite record. “It is my gospel song and I wanted to end the album how I started my career, which was singing in church," she explains in a Southern-soaked accent.

What she doesn't mention until later is that the track is incredibly indicative of how far she's come.

“That song just talks about how I made it through things most people didn't think I'd make it through."

American Idol

Fantasia's singing career started in front of the world. In 2004, a then 19-year-old Fantasia, who grew up listening to the likes of Prince, Sheila E and Frankie Beverly and Maze, was crowned the winner of American Idol. In just a few months, she skyrocketed and quickly felt the whirlwind of fame. As a young, inexperienced singer who just won a national singing competition, the road to fame was mapped out for her by the powers of the television network, from managers to lawyers to the songs she was expected to record. “You don't really get the option to say what you really want to do. When you win, you're assigned to a management company, you're signed to a label. You don't really have an opportunity to say what you want to do and what you don't want to do. And that can be very, very tough."

Though she was caged creatively, her debut album Free Yourself, birthed from Idol orchestration, eventually went platinum and was Grammy-nominated two years later. Her second and third studio efforts, Fantasia and Back To Me respectively, received much of the same success, earning her Grammy nods, a Grammy win for “Bittersweet", and landed her on Broadway's rendition of The Color Purple as Celie.

“I thank God for the favor that was on my life and the opportunity that I was able to do outside of just the music," she says, describing this critical time of her career. “I was able to do Broadway, I was able to do my own Lifetime movie, and in all of that, I was able to show the people that I can do a little bit of anything if I put my mind to it."

As Fantasia continued to create songs, from a fan's perspective, the music never faltered. Receiving largely positive reviews, her now five studio albums have all reflected her intuitive, soulful rock sound, with the latest LP being her most musically authentic. For years, however, Fantasia suffered beneath the weight of vicious media headlines and the highs and lows of her business deals (she was dropped from Simon Fuller's management company in 2008). Rumors about her illiteracy and relationship with married boyfriend Antwaun Cook were strewn around the internet and eventually culminated in a suicide attempt.

“That's a feeling I would never be able to explain because words cannot explain how lonely and how hurt I was," she says. “I came off of Idol taking care of my whole entire family, so I went through a lot of dark times. It was almost like being in a glass box where everybody could see me but I couldn't get out of that box. It was just me. No one wanted to help. Everyone just wanted to talk about it, but not many people were stepping up and saying, 'Hey, I wanna reach out.'"

Thankfully, people like Tyler Perry, Oprah Winfrey, Aretha Franklin and Patti LaBelle were in her corner during those times. “They all reached out because they all had been there."

The Power Of Love

Despite breakups and hitting the lowest valleys of her life, Fantasia doesn't carry the burden of the past on her shoulders. Though we're delving into her trials, she sounds grateful for those soul-crushing obstacles. “I can thank God for those times because being here at the age of 32 making it through so much, I feel like it was a part of my journey," she says. “There's not a day that goes by that I don't meet someone––young, old, black, white, female, male––that comes up to me and wants me to talk and encourage them. God allowed me to go through certain storms and certain tests to have a testimony and share it to help somebody else along the way."

She also credits the love of her life, husband Kendall Taylor, for finding the strength to love herself past her pain. The two wed in 2015 after only a few short weeks of dating. Admittedly broken and insecure at the time, the mother of two says she found her perfect guy by switching up her approach to love.

“I fasted for seven months while I was doing my last Broadway play, After Midnight. I started realizing that what I was doing wasn't working for me, so I did something very corny and I put a ring on my own finger. I did a lot of praying and watched a lot of things that were good for my spirit. Me and Kendall married before we made love, so it wasn't about my body or my money. He was a man with his own business and he was also a man with a past. I think I fell in love with that the most because he did not let his past block his future. He has a story and a testimony, too."

I hear her smiling through the phone as we discuss her prince charming, and it takes everything inside of me not to let a few amens loose. You see, I'm still in the toad-kissing phase of dating, but to know this soul singer found the love she deserves is the spoonful of hope single black women need. She makes it plain that every day isn't "peaches and cream," but they both put in the work to make their love flourish. "He always says he married me to date me," she laughs. An example? Her hubby recently took her on a date to where they got married and she live streamed in on Facebook.

The lessons she's learning from this new love are even more encouraging. “Love is fragile," she says. "You have to be patient with love. You have to make sure that the way you carry yourself, the words that come out of your mouth, that you're being careful because we're both still human."

These are the lessons of love Fantasia wants to pass down to her kids, especially her daughter Zion. “My husband teaches them what a man should be and he shows them by how he treats me. I show them how to be themselves. Both roles play a big part."

Free Yourself

It's like a sigh of relief to see the woman Fantasia has become. Like much of the world, I saw the stones thrown her way from all angles. But in this moment, I can tell Fantasia is free from the dark times that crippled her. Both personally and musically, she's on a high. "I'm at that point where as an artist, I'm supposed to be able to creatively share what I want to share with the world musically, video-wise, fashion-wise. I'm supposed to be able to express that and not have someone tell me what to sing, how it should sound, what to wear. I'm just finally to that point of like, if I'm going to go through all that I'm going to go through. If I'm gonna catch flack and people talking about me, I might as well just do what I want to do the way I want to do it."

Does she regret anything? Not at all.

“I realize in life that we must go through things and understand that everything we go through is necessary. It was necessary for me to go through it in order for me to do my music and do what I do on the stage."

For anyone, finding yourself and your voice is a major key to living well. For Fantasia, it's the definition of who she is today. “At this point I've been through so many things and I'm every woman."

Featured image via Jamie Lamor Thompson / Shutterstock.com

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A music lover since childhood, Amira grew up in an artistic household where passion for music was emphasized. “My dad has always been my huge inspiration for music because he’s a musician himself and is so passionate about the history of music.” Amira’s also dealt with deafness in one ear since she was a toddler, a condition which she says only makes her more “intentional” about the music she makes, to ensure that what she hears inside her head can translate the way she wants it to for audiences.

“The loss of hearing means a person can’t experience music in the conventional way,” she says. “I’ve always responded to bigger, bolder anthemic songs because I can feel them [the vibrations] in my body, and I want to be sure my music does this for deaf/HOH people and everyone.”

A Black woman wearing a black hijab and black and gold dress stands in between two men who are both wearing black pants and colorful jackets and necklaces

Amira Unplugged and other contestants on Becoming a Popstar

Amira Unplugged / MTV

In order to lift people’s spirits at the beginning of the pandemic, Amira began posting videos on TikTok of herself singing and using sign language so her music could reach her deaf fans as well. She was surprised by how quickly she was able to amass a large audience. It was through her videos that she caught the attention of a talent scout for MTV’s new music competition show for rising TikTok singers, Becoming a Popstar. After a three-month process, Amira was one of those picked to be a contestant on the show.

Becoming a Popstar, as Amira describes, is different from other music competition shows we’ve all come to know over the years. “Well, first of all, it’s all original music. There’s not a single cover,” she says. “We have to write these songs in like a day or two and then meet with our producers, meet with our directors. Every week, we are producing a full project for people to vote on and decide if they’d listen to it on the radio.”

To make sure her deaf/HOH audiences can feel her songs, she makes sure to “add more bass, guitar, and violin in unique patterns.” She also incorporates “higher pitch sounds with like chimes, bells, and piccolo,” because, she says, they’re easier to feel. “But it’s less about the kind of instrument and more about how I arrange the pattern of the song. Everything I do is to create an atmosphere, a sensation, to make my music a multi-sensory experience.”

She says that working alongside the judges–pop stars Joe Jonas and Becky G, and choreographer Sean Bankhead – has helped expand her artistry. “Joe was really more about the vocal quality and the timber and Becky was really about the passion of [the song] and being convinced this was something you believed in,” she says. “And what was really great about [our choreographer] Sean is that obviously he’s a choreographer to the stars – Lil Nas X, Normani – but he didn’t only focus on choreo, he focused on stage presence, he focused on the overall message of the song. And I think all those critiques week to week helped us hone in on what we wanted to be saying with our next song.”

As her star rises, it’s been both her Muslim faith and her friends, whom she calls “The Glasses Gang” (“because none of us can see!”), that continue to ground her. “The Muslim and the Muslima community have really gone hard [supporting me] and all these people have come together and I truly appreciate them,” Amira says. “I have just been flooded with DMs and emails and texts from [young muslim kids] people who have just been so inspired,” she says. “People who have said they have never seen anything like this, that I embody a lot of the style that they wanted to see and that the message hit them, which is really the most important thing to me.”

A Black woman wears a long, salmon pink hijab, black outfit and pink boots, smiling down at the camera with her arm outstretched to it.

Amira Unplugged

Amira Unplugged / MTV

Throughout the show’s production, she was able to continue to uphold her faith practices with the help of the crew, such as making sure her food was halal, having time to pray, dressing modestly, and working with female choreographers. “If people can accept this, can learn, and can grow, and bring more people into the fold of this industry, then I’m making a real difference,” she says.

Though she didn’t win the competition, this is only the beginning for Amira. Whether it’s on Becoming a Popstar or her videos online, Amira has made it clear she has no plans on going anywhere but up. “I’m so excited that I’ve gotten this opportunity because this is really, truly what I think I’m meant to do.”

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