Fantasia Barrino caused quite a stir last month when she returned to the launch pad of her hit-making music career, "American Idol," for the TV music competition's Season 11 finale.
Less than six months after giving birth to her second child, son Dallas Xavier Barrino, the 27-year-old North Carolina R&B belter was back on stage in a revealing skin-tight outfit, singing a duet of Elton John's classic "Take Me to The Pilot" with third-place finisher Joshua Ledet in a performance that had Internet media outlets buzzing.
"The song was actually selected for us to perform," the "American Idol" Season 3 champ said recently by e-mail." "It wasn't our first choice; however, we went with the flow."
The pair delivered a pumped-up, gospel-infused reading of the number. But as enthusiastic as her on-camera performance was, Barrino said she was even more excited to get to share with the newest "Idol" performers all that she has learned about music and life since she catapulted to fame on the show in 2004 at age 19.
"It was great to return to the place where I got my start," she said, still grateful to the show that catapulted her from impoverished single teen mom to international music stardom. "I have valuable career advice for future contestants: Keep God first, and don't believe the hype. Keep good, loyal and honest people in your corner. And stay hands-on in all your business dealings. 'American Idol' has been a great role in my career, allowing me to showcase to millions that I would not have been able to introduce who and what Fantasia's brand is."
If music listeners weren't already acquainted with that brand -- which includes an award-winning turn on Broadway in the musical adaptation of Alice Walker's "The Color Purple," a best-selling memoir and companion hit TV movie in which she starred as herself, and one platinum and two gold records -- they will be soon.
Though her much-anticipated return to acting -- a Mahalia Jackson biopic in which she was to star this year -- has been postponed indefinitely, Barrino still has a busy 2012 planned. Fans can catch her on the road, including an appearance Saturday at Southaven's Landers Center with frequent tour mate KEM and headlining soul legends The Isley Brothers, as she revs up anticipation for her fourth album, due out at the end of the year.
Barrino is currently putting the finishing touches on the record with producers Jerry "Wonder" Duplessis (Fugees, Justin Beiber, Lupe Fiasco) and Chuck Harmony (Keri Hilson, Rihanna, and Barrino's own "Bittersweet") with the goal of having the first single out later this summer.
Coming on the heels of her first Grammy win last year for Best Female R&B Performance for "Bittersweet" off of her third record, Back To Me, Barrino admitted that the stakes for her new record are high.
"Of course, the pressure is always on to give the fans more of Fantasia and to allow them to see my growth," she said. "This time around, I have more creative input and am writing a lot. I think everyone will be quite pleased with where I am going this go-'round."
But Barrino doesn't let that pressure get to her. After all, she has faced tougher fights. As recounted in her best-selling 2005 memoir (and 2006 hit Lifetime movie) Life Is Not a Fairy Tale, she had a childhood marked by poverty and little education. Raped by a classmate in high school, she dropped out and had her first child, daughter Zion, at age 17, two years before "Idol."
Eight years after "Idol," Barrino's life would appear to have taken a sharp turn with fame and fortune. But following the example of her own mother, a longtime gospel singer whose upcoming CD her daughter is producing, she remains focused on the important things that make her career worthwhile.
"I've learned how to balance my time between being a single working mother and an entertainer," she said. "My children mean the world to me, and that's what helps me to make my career my No. 2 priority after being a mother first."
Inaugural Fathers Day Weekend Smooth Grooves Music Fest
8 p.m. Saturday at Landers Center, 4560 Venture Drive, Southaven. Tickets: $57.50 and $97.50; available at the box office, (888) 280-9120, and Ticketmaster. For more information, call (662) 280-9120 or visit landers center.com.