When you think of American Idol, you think girl or boy next door. Season 3 winner Fantasia broke the mold when she was crowned in 2004. Instead of releasing pop music or trying to crossover to what many consider mainstream, the North Carolina native stuck to her roots of good church music and R&B soul and partnered with the likes of Missy Elliott for her production on her debut album Free Yourself. It was a departure from the seemingly cookie-cutter music previous and future Idol winners would use as a crutch. Watching Fantasia perform is indeed a spiritual experience. Despite the background singers and band, she needs no assistance. Her voice and energy carry the large arenas she sells out. This time, she brought her popular Rock Soul show to Baltimore, Maryland's Chesapeake Employers Insurance Arena on Aug. 20.
The opening act was Leelah James, another member of the Rock Soul genre, known to fans as the female James Brown. I arrived an hour ahead of schedule, but the lines were so long out of the door for ticketed attendees that I missed most of James' set. I caught the tail end. She donned all Black and long tresses and encouraged the audience to be proud of their Blackness by putting their fists in the air while chanting, "Say It Loud, I'm Black, and I'm Proud," the call and response Brown is famous for. But it was Fantasia that the audience was waiting for.
Fantasia didn't disappoint. But she was disappointed with the first few songs of her performance as one of her background singer's microphones was faulty. The professional that she is, Fantasia called out the sound check team on the issue, and after sharing a mic with her fellow background singer, the vocalist was finally given a new one. But none of them missed a beat.
She sang all of the classics throughout her catalog: "When I See You," "Truth Is," "Ain't Gon' Beg You," "Lose to Win," "Collard Greens & Cornbread," "Bittersweet," "Free Yourself," the list goes on. She treated us to a mixed set of her old school faves, singing "Lady Marmalade," by Patti LaBelle, "Rock Steady" by Aretha Franklin, and "I'm Your Baby Tonight" by Whitney Houston. Because she was in the Baltimore area, not far from D.C. where go-go is forever present, she did a mashup of iconic go-go songs "Doin The Butt" and "Overnight Scenario," sending the audience to their feet to bop.
But it would be the interludes of her singing acapella, one of which was "Bad Girl," a song that details a man falling for a woman whose flaws are out in the open. It's clear The Color Purple alum considers herself such. She's been open about her struggles: a high school dropout who became a teenage mother, found herself in a slew of bad relationships, survived an attempted suicide, filed for bankruptcy, and public scrutiny for dating a married man – only for her to triumph in Broadway, win a Grammy, expand her family, marry the man of her dreams, and earn her high school diploma. She's proven that she's the definition of what an American Idol is.