Thursday, November 17, 2005

the only idol worthwhile. . .

Article published Nov 16, 2005 in Creative Loafing Atlanta

This Ain't Disney
Fantasia makes dreams come true
By Tamara Palmer

Not a lot of baby-mamas get to go on tour with Kanye West, but Fantasia Barrino isn't the average baby-mama. At 21, she's the mother of a 4-year-old (daughter Zion) and happens to be a platinum-selling R&B singer and a season-winner of "American Idol."Fantasia's strings of life weren't always so sweet as these gorgeous high notes that are playing now. She recently released a book, Life Is Not a Fairy Tale, in which she describes being a young, single mother who has experienced considerable abuse and hardship. Among its shocking revelations: She has been functionally illiterate for most of her life (she's now being tutored and working on getting her high-school diploma).

But through the successful use of her distinct musical gift, she is transforming lives. After winning "American Idol," she bought a house for her family and started college funds for Zion as well as her youngest brother.

Being able to provide for Zion has given Fantasia a point of pride that was missing in her life.

"It feels good to be able to go home and have something in my hand for her, because there was a time when I couldn't do like I wanted to for her," she says. "She loves Barbies and Cabbage Patch dolls, so now every time I come home I've got a Barbie or a Cabbage Patch or a book for her. And the smile on her face - it just lights up. And I'm like, 'OK, I work hard for a reason.'

"Every day is a challenge, but it makes me a stronger woman and it makes me a better mom. When I first started leaving and she would cry and stuff, it was really hard for me on the road and thinking, 'My child is missing me, I'm out here. Is it worth it?' Now that she's getting older, she's starting to understand and it's like, 'Yeah, it's worth it.' Because I'm allowed to do something that I love and at the same time take care of my child and do things I've always wanted to do for her. It's hard because sometimes I get kinda jealous now, too, because she tells me she's got two moms. She calls my mom 'Mama' and she calls me 'Mommy.' I'm like, 'No! One mom, one grandmother!'"

Before Fantasia won the 2004 season of "American Idol" with more votes cast than for the winner of the presidential election, the claim to fame of her hometown of High Point, N.C., was as the "furniture capital of the world." Instead, it's now known as the incubator for some of the most startling, natural talent that may ever cross Simon Cowell's path.

Not that he would agree, mind you. Cowell was recently overheard on "Howard Stern" grousing that Fantasia should have stuck to the "Idol" formula on her debut album. Free Yourself has been certified platinum, a rare feat for any first effort, yet Cowell thought she could sell much more if she had done it differently.

Free Yourself includes her two cover songs that dazzled "Idol" audiences: Willie Nelson's "You Were Always on My Mind" and George Gershwin's "Summertime." But the remainder is less "Idol" and much more contemporary R&B. To make her urban music dreams come true, Fantasia didn't mess around. She came straight to Atlanta to pow-wow with mega-mogul Jermaine Dupri and super-producer/singer Jazze Pha. She also worked with two of the city's most happening young songwriters, Johnta Austin (a regular pen for Mariah Carey) and Sean Garrett (fresh from a hot streak with songs like Usher's "Yeah!" and Ciara's "Goodies").

Songwriting is really the lucrative end of the business. Inspired by her work with Austin and Garrett, Fantasia plans to get more into the craft as she advances in her music career. As an aside, I tell her that songwriting also interests me.

"Write one," says Fantasia, with what seems like genuine encouragement, "and I'll sing it!"

Well, how's that for inspirational? When you wish upon a star, indeed.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

for those who remember . . .

Before Clear Channel, they were rockin' the Bay . . . I dunno, maybe KMEL should bring the old logo back?

Also, at that time (the early '80s), there was the radio station known as The Quake, predecessor to the 'modern rock' format later taken on when KITS all-hit radio turned into Live 105.

The Quake was amazing and I learned about a lot of music from that station. But more than its loss, I'm lamenting the fact that none of the local stations are using earthquake references to promote themselves . . . no one's quakin' or rockin' the Bay these days.

107.7 The Bone doesn't count . . .

Actually, on second thought, I just remembered that there is a new radio station in the Bay Area called The Quake, but it's perhaps better known as Air America. I like to fall asleep to talk radio of all persuasions (from political to religious to alien-oriented), and Air America has definitely shaken up the AM dial 'round these parts. How could I forget?

This seems like a good time to recommend 95 Live, the all-Bay-all-day hip-hop Internet radio station. People probably wouldn't know what to do with themselves if this was on the terrestrial airwaves . . .

Saturday, November 05, 2005

fear factor

It's been a long time since I had such a good Halloween weekend as I did this year. I had already planned to check out Meat Beat Manifesto's special late-night show at Otherworld in Oakland (I would call it a 'rave,' but I dunno what the young people are calling such illicit, all-night gatherings this minute). But I was stoked to get an email from MBM's Jack Dangers himself, inviting me along. Picture one of your favorite artists of all time asking you to their show and you'll have an idea how thrilled . . .

I was out of town when the MBM show hit SF this June, though Jack kindly gave me a preview of some of the incredible visuals when I interviewed him for this story.

Of course, I had to sleep allllll day long in order to be conscious enough for the 1:30am start time, but it was well worth fighting my old lady, couch potato nature to be treated to a career's worth of amazing tunes.

i have a (thug life) dream b/w ambitions of a writah

Crunk Tour 2005 (the name for my Scotch-taped together, super budget book-inspired travel this year) stopped in Atlanta a couple weeks back. The main reason: My curiosity drove me to take a look at the Tupac Amaru Shakur Center for the Arts, which opened in June in neighboring Stone Mountain.

My thoughts on the Center and its efforts will appear in story form in ATL's Creative Loafing newspaper next month, but I will say now that I was happy to make the journey and that I have the opportunity to present a different viewpoint from what's already been written about it in CL and by CL writers in blogland (which hasn't been too positive).

housing is $%@#ing expensive, biiiiiiiitch!

There's a previously unreleased excerpt from my book interview with Too $hort up now on Pacific Standard. In it, he talks about his move to Atlanta in 1993.

His words resonate extra hard with me at the moment as I continue to fight for the right to afford to stay in the Bay Area. . .