Twelve years ago on the American Idol stage, the world was introduced to a soft-spoken southern girl with an extraordinarily powerful voice by the name of Fantasia Barrino. Fast forward to 2016 and Fantasia has solidified herself as one of the most unique and timeless talents of her generation who continues to excel far beyond High Point, North Carolina while using her gift to touch audiences around the world.
Fantasia’s new album, The Definition Of, is a subtle testament to the highs and lows of her life’s journey and an effortlessly soulful vocal interpretation of what it feels like to finally find love. While the project recently debuted at number 1 on the Billboard R&B charts, Fantasia admits that it wasn’t exactly an easy road to the top of the charts.
“To be honest with you, we fought for this album,” the songstress tells ESSENCE. “There were days when I would be in the studio and I would say, 'if I can’t do what I’m feeling, then I don’t wanna do it at all.;"
Ultimately, it was Fantasia’s resilience, trust in her craft and unwavering devotion to her passion for creating music that convinced skeptical record label heads to take a chance on her vision for the album.
“I’ve been in this for 12 years and there are a lot of ups and downs when it comes to this music industry. I remember when I first started singing when I was a kid, you know, I just liked to sing. I thought it was just singing but, when you get into the industry, you realize that there are a lot of pieces to it.”
She also stood firm on wanting to deliver a project that was true to who she is creatively and worth the time away from her family.
“When you do it for so long and you go through so much and you deal with so much and you see so much, you come to the conclusion of, ok, this is what I do. This is my 9 to 5, this is how I feed my kids. This is everything for me. There are a lot of sacrifices that I have to make to be away from my family and my kids. So, if I’m going to do it, then I’m going to really do it how I want to do it.”
For the wife and mother of two, doing things “her way” meant venturing into slightly new territory to create a sound she refers to as rock-soul.
“With this album, I was at that place where I wanted to do rock-soul. And people say, ‘what is rock-soul?’ It’s every genre of music. It’s a little bit of rock, a little bit of pop, a little bit of jazz, country, gospel.”
Like many R&B singers, Fantasia’s massive fan base has been most devoted to her staple classics like “Free Yourself,” “Bittersweet” and “Truth Is” that tell stories of heartache and offer encouragement for women to navigate through the pain of love lost. The Definition Of hears the newlywed (this past July marked her first wedding anniversary) in a new space, celebrating love and all that it has to offer. She hopes to empower those same women who journeyed with her through heartbreak to also learn to embrace the possibilities of happiness and true companionship.
“Everybody desires to be in love,” she says. “Everybody desires to have love or to have that partnership or that person that they can go to when times are hard. But, I think what happens is that we want love but, we get so comfortable and the safest place for us is that hurt or that dark place.” Although forever appreciative of the overwhelmingly positive response to her earlier music, Fantasia aims to bring her audience through their pain and into a space of hope, much like she had to do for herself.
“How can we open the door for love if we’re always listening to 'Free Yourself' or always listening to 'Bittersweet?' And I had to do that for myself. I had to get to a place where I could accept love and I could let go of every bad relationship. I’m just coming off the tour with Anthony Hamilton and we tapped back into ‘Truth Is’ and we performed it a capella and everybody was like ‘ohhh yes!’ But, I would still give a story before I would go into every song basically saying, ‘no I’m not here anymore, but I remember when I was.’ So, you can play those records, but move on from them. You gotta put yourself in that place in order to receive that kind of love.”
Overall, Fantasia believes that her gift of song is one that she was purposed by God to use as a tool for uplifting, encouraging and empowering women who share stories similar to her own.
“You know, ‘Sleeping With The One I Love’ still has that gritty, bluesy feeling. So it’s like I’m still having that same ‘Free Yourself’ moment, but just singing different lyrics and it’s the truth and it feels good. I’ve never felt like this before and I want every woman to feel like this. Truly, I think my ministry is women. Broken women and young mothers – encouraging them,” she said.
Most importantly, Fantasia says, that encouragement is not just about the bad in love.
“I want to also encourage them by saying, ‘look, you guys. Love is there. It’s out there and there’s somebody for everybody.’”
WANT MORE FROM ESSENCE? Subscribe to our daily newsletter for the latest in hair, beauty, style and celebrity news.