Fantasia Barrino, former "American Idol" champion, has released… (Sony Music )
Fantasia was ready to walk away from her music, and her life, not so long ago. "I was starting to hate what I loved — the label, the industry," said the R&B singer on the eve of her first album in nearly three years, "Side Effects of You." "I was at a place where I knew what I wanted. And if I couldn't have it, I didn't want to do it anymore."
Fantasia Barrino was only 20 when she won the third season of "American Idol" in 2004. She then made a successful record, released a memoir, starred in a Lifetime movie about her own life and even tackled Broadway.
But her career began slipping by 2008, and so did her personal life. Reports about her finances, supposed diva antics, label tension, her weight and drama during her Broadway debut, "The Color Purple," made her a tabloid punch line. Then it got worse in 2010 when the wife of a man she was dating filed for divorce and blamed Barrino for the demise of her marriage. She threatened to sue Barrino under a North Carolina law that allows a spouse to file suit against the person they deem responsible for the marriage's failure.
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It didn't help that Barrino was fighting her personal and professional battles on camera thanks to her highly rated VH1 reality series, "Fantasia for Real."
Overwhelmed, Barrino overdosed on sleeping pills and aspirin in August 2010.
"My intentions weren't to kill myself. I just wanted to get away. [I had] so much … on me, on my mind," she said. "I know one, two, three [pills] won't get me away."
Barrino didn't want to record new music, but after lots of prayer and time to "fix" herself, she changed her mind.
Triumph over adversity anchors "Side Effects of You," out Tuesday.
Her first since 2010's "Back to Me," the album showcases a rejuvenated Barrino, 28, singing with newfound conviction. "I'm putting it all out there," she said, sipping a glass of Riesling over dinner at a Beverly Hills restaurant.
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The former Idol worked with up-and-coming R&B producer Harmony Samuels (Brandy, Chris Brown, Keyshia Cole) for the album that she's branded "rock soul." How serious is she about this release? She raises her arms to reveal "rock" tattooed on one hand, "soul" on the other.
The album is at its best when Barrino is at her rawest, like on the title track penned by British soul songstress Emeli Sandé. "I was looking for a cure to pull me through / Tried to decide which medicine to use / Every bottle has your name on the label," she sings.
Barrino says the track is still difficult for her to hear. "I leave the room. At this point I can talk about [the overdose] because I believe God put me here now," she says. "I decided to share that on this album."
She grows quiet, then continues. "Reaching that point, such a dark place. I don't want anybody to experience that dark moment," she says. "That was the hardest song to record, but I knew that I had to. If I can help somebody through that one song then I'll do it."
Samuels, who produced all but one track, helped Barrino weave together a disc of sumptuous contemporary R&B dipped in vintage rock and soul. She is also co-writing her own album for the first time — something she wasn't able to do on previous projects.
In her songs on her new release, she's defiant against naysayers with "Lighthouse," aching over a failed love in the first single, "Lose to Win," and puts a man in his place with the anthem "Without Me," which features Missy Elliott and Kelly Rowland.
Barrino returned to the "Idol" stage Thursday to deliver a chilling performance of "Lose to Win" and is gearing up for a promo campaign for the album. She will also perform alongside classical singer Andrea Bocelli on a string of dates on his tour, including a Hollywood Bowl performance June 8.
"I'm in a happy place. I've found peace. I'm back to that Fantasia that first walked onstage," she said. "I can tell you now that my smile is genuine — and it's not just pretend."
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