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Published: Sunday, 12/4/2005

'Idol's' Fantasia Barrino hits a sour note

BY ERIKA RAY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

LIFE IS NOT A FAIRY TALE. By Fantasia Barrino. Simon & Schuster. 226 pages. $21.95.

Once upon a time, there was a single mother trying to make ends meet in a poor community where dreams are something one has only while asleep.

The mother was coaxed to audition for a show she'd never seen, sang from her heart, and won over millions of Americans who voted for her as their favorite singer. Then she saw her life change for the better, as her first album went platinum within two months of its debut, and she lived happily ever after. The end.

While it may sound like a typical rags-to-riches fairy tale, 2004 American Idol winner Fantasia Barrino is quick to point out in her first book that she can't even read a fairy tale to her 4-year-old daughter.

Life is Not a Fairy Tale, which she dictated to a freelance writer, gives a brutally honest and thorough account of the 21-year-old's life to date - from singing in a small church when she was 5 years old to becoming a singing sensation.

For the first time, Fantasia discloses that she is functionally illiterate, leading her to drop out of high school in ninth grade and later to sign record deals and contracts she couldn't understand after winning the third season of Idol.

There are several references to the popular Fox TV talent contest that put her in the spotlight, but, surprisingly, few details are disclosed. Millions of Americans tune into the show twice a week to watch average Joes and Janes fight it out for music stardom, but the book lacks behind-the-scenes details, gossip, and anecdotes once the audition process is over, other than a listing of Fantasia's favorite Idol contestants.

The majority of the book, which is heavy with slang and references to God, centers around her teenage years, and reveals mistakes she's made in life. She also unveils what anyone else might be too embarrassed to share, such as how she felt when confronted with her father's mean streak, raped by a classmate, beaten by a boyfriend, and when stealing diapers and milk for her daughter, Zion.

However, as the book progresses, Fantasia gives advice to other "baby mamas" in poor communities, explains how to avoid becoming a "hootchie mama," and dedicates a chapter to problems she's encountered with her newfound financial stability, which effectively, and unfortunately, sets up an extremely limited target audience.

The 226-page book would have had a more powerful impact if it were condensed into about 100 pages. By jumping around from one time period to another, Fantasia constantly reiterates the same facts about her life, leaving readers with a sense of dj vu that lasts after just a few chapters until the end of the book.

In addition, several chapters should have been excluded or saved for the acknowledgments, including chapter 7, which is 18 pages dedicated to how she feels about her mother that reads like a long and dull Academy Award speech.

The tone of the story also becomes more arrogant as the chapters flip by. In the introduction, Fantasia says that she's "just like these people who come out to see me." In the final chapter, she asks fans not to bother her while she's eating in a restaurant, which successfully narrows her already tight audience and leaves readers no longer able to relate to her experiences that she says she wants them to learn from.

Life is not a fairy tale for a lot of Americans, but we all have our own obstacles to overcome. Winning a singing contest does give Fantasia the authority to share the whirlwind of American Idol, but it does not give her the expertise to give others advice about how to live their lives. Fantasia should just stick to what she does best - sing.

Contact Erika Ray at: eray@theblade.com or 419-724-6088.



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