Fantasia Barrino is arguably the only American Idol winner who didn’t need the show to achieve some level of success. Her gritty vocals are strong enough to garner comparisons to Aretha Franklin and Mary J. Blige yet original enough to allow her to create her own sound. On her 2004 debut, Free Yourself, Barrino struggled to balance her R&B roots with her pop stardom. The album was watered down and aimed at securing more mainstream acceptance. On Fantasia, the singer delivers a contemporary soul album, and the work is better for it. Gone are the cheesy Idol references, replaced by dance-floor anthems, bass-heavy mid-tempo soul and quality throwback love songs.
Fantasia is an aggressive album, with many of the best tracks being club-banging R&B anthems. Opener “Hood Boy,” featuring Big Boi of Outkast, stands along any Beyonce track with its blaring horns and Supremes sample. Many of the album’s best cuts follow this template, fusing ’60s vibes with hip-hop beats. “Baby Makin’ Hips” is all cascading percussion and bottom end, fronted by Fantasia’s furiously sexy vocal. The beats keep coming on tracks like “Not the Way That I Do” and “I’m Not That Type,” both of which aim to secure her club diva status. Of the up-tempo tracks, one of the most delightful and original is “Bore Me (Yawn)” with its handclapping ’60s vibe. The track brims with classic Motown energy and has “crossover hit” written all over it.
Despite all the dance tracks, many of the album’s memorable moments are the slower tracks, most notably the mid-tempo “When I See U,” with its pulsing groove, simple piano keys and assured performance. The simple song succeeds because of Barrino’s strong presence, which adds a layer of complexity and emotion to the evocative production. Ballads like “Two Weeks Notice” and “Nominate U” work because of their clever lyrics, with the latter equating bedroom prowess to an Oscar-nominated performance and the former describing a break-up through the terms of quitting a dead-end job.
With her second release, Barrino steps further away from American Idol and becomes more of a competitor in the contemporary-soul genre. What she ends up with is another solid album-and further validation of the genius of the machine that is American Idol.