Fantasia Barrino’s most controversial moments ever

The early aughts were the arguable heyday of American Idol, which spawned some of the music industry’s biggest stars, even if they didn’t win. For most of us, it was a simpler time, the kind where we actually bought From Justin to Kelly on VHS or loaded a William Hung track onto our iPod minis. But nothing was ever so simple for American Idol‘s Season 3 winner Fantasia Barrino. The tenacious star endured more in the short two decades before she was famous than most people deal with in their entire lives.

In 2004, Barrino was just a 19-year-old hopeful from High Point, N.C. Her life was changed forever when she took home Idol‘s top prize. That year, her single “I Believe” topped the Billboard Hot 100, and the singer went on to win a Grammy Award and sell more than 3.3 million albums in the United States. According to The Wrap, she’s remained one of the highest-selling American Idol stars of all time, but you’d never know it if you read the headlines. 

Barrino’s career has been occasionally overshadowed by scandal and controversy. From her intense mental health struggles to her financial troubles, this American Idol alum has turned heads for more than just her immense talent.

Fantasia Barrino was a high school dropout who made a name for herself

Dropping out of high school isn’t exactly a move most parents would choose for their children unless they were already independently famous and wealthy, but Fantasia Barrino wasn’t a young Ryan Gosling or Harry Styles. She didn’t have a career to fall back on when she quit high school. Rather, trauma forced her hand.

In a 2005 interview with 20/20 (via ABC News), Barrino revealed that she was sexually assaulted in ninth grade by a “popular student” she had a crush on. The assault took place in the high school auditorium, and she immediately went home and crawled into bed. “My mom comes upstairs, and she says, ‘Something is wrong with you.’ I wouldn’t even talk,” Barrino admitted. “She says, ‘Have you been touched?’ I still said nothing. I laid in that bed for two days. I wouldn’t even go to school.”

The American Idol star eventually came forward, and even though her abuser was “disciplined,” Barrino did, at one point, blame herself. “I was saying it was my fault — just because of the way I was dressed, I caused it on myself,” she told 20/20. Not long after the incident, Barrino dropped out of school entirely. According to ABC News, she later became a single mom at age 17, but still managed to get a GED several years after quitting her studies and record seven studio albums.

Fantasia Barrino's shocking secret

Two years after she won American Idol, Fantasia Barrino was still hiding a secret. In a jaw-dropping 20/20 interview (via ABC News), the singer admitted that she was basically illiterate, which is something that ran in the star’s family. She struggled to read every day things most of us take for granted, and the shame she felt stopped her from pursing a career. Barrino wasn’t even trying to get a job before she found TV fame, saying, “I was so ashamed.”

In her 2005 memoir, Life is Not a Fairy Tale, the Grammy winner wrote about living as — what she calls — “functionally illiterate.” According to ABC News, she could “barely make out or pronounce unfamiliar words,” which made filming the scripted segments of American Idol really difficult. She faked her way through, pretending that she pronounced things wrong because she was “country.” It only became a problem when producers gave her a song she wasn’t familiar with, “Summertime” by George Gershwin. She listened to the track repeatedly until she had it memorized to hide the fact that she couldn’t read the lyrics.

Barrino may have succeeded despite her illiteracy, but it had the potential to derail her career. ABC News reports that the Idol alum signed contracts she “didn’t read and couldn’t understand,” but the worst part was not being able to read to her child, Zion. She later became a “stronger reader” through the help of a tutor.

This controversial love story was certainly no fairy tale

In 2010, Fantasia Barrino found herself in the middle of a controversial (and potentially expensive) love triangle when her boyfriend’s wife threatened to file a lawsuit claiming the singer knowingly had an affair with her man. ABC News reports that North Carolina is one of the few states that allows a spouse to sue a someone for “alienation of affection,” but there’s a lot of speculation about whether or not Barrino knew she was a mistress.

According to People, the American Idol alum had been seeing T-Mobile store manager Antwaun Cook on and off for 11 months, thinking he’d been separated from Paula Cook since late summer 2009. Barrino’s revelation came during the pair’s child custody case in which Paula claimed they split in the summer of 2010. “Fantasia does not know what to believe now,” her manager, Brian Dickens, said in a statement (via ABC News). ” … Fantasia is heartbroken. She feels betrayed. She is also sorry for the pain she has caused.”

Strangely enough, CNN reports that Barrino later testified that she knew Antwaun was still married and had been living with Paula. Per Radar Online, the two women entered arbitration and failed to reach an agreement, but the case seemingly came to a halt when, according to The Root, a judge ruled in Antwaun’s favor during the divorce proceedings and declared their separation date September 2009 (i.e. late summer, like Barrino originally said). 

Fantasia Barrino's abortion furthered the love triangle controversy

When Fantasia Barrino’s love triangle controversy surfaced in the headlines amidst Antwaun Cook’s divorce proceedings, it also came with a shocking admission. According to Radar Online, the Grammy Award-winner admitted in court that she had aborted Cook’s baby.

In November 2010, the gossip rag obtained a recording of the courtroom audio where Barrino talked about how she revealed to Cook in a letter that she wanted to have his children. She then confessed to terminating her pregnancy, recalling that it probably happened around August of that year — the same period in which she overdosed (more on this below), and Cook’s wife filed for divorce and publicly alleged Barrino had an affair.

The year after giving her testimony, Barrino gave birth to a son named Dallas Xavier. According to CNN, she didn’t reveal the child’s father, but Radar Online claimed it was Cook’s kid. By the time that news surfaced, Paula and Antwaun had allegedly reconciled, and the pair took Dallas to Chuck E. Cheese for his birthday. Antwaun and Barrino reportedly share custody.

Fantasia Barrino's harrowing overdose

In August 2010, Fantasia Barrino’s manager called 911 after finding the American Idol winner nearly unconscious. According to ABC News, the singer had swallowed a bottle of aspirin and a sleep aid. At first, it was being reported as an accidental overdose, but days later, Barrino bravely came forward with the truth.

In an interview with Gayle King (via People), Barrino admitted that her depression worsened amidst financial and business troubles, the discovery of a throat tumor during her stint on Broadway, and the fact that her memoir-turned-film Life is Not a Fairy Tale left her vulnerable to critics and comedians. Around the same time, she told the Los Angeles Times that she intentionally took the pills. “I’m always the bubbly life of the party. And, for so long, I pushed and pushed and pushed. And, this day, I had no push in me,” she told the publication. “Look at all this stuff I’ve been through at the age of 26. All of it just overloaded.” 

Barrino entered treatment for her mental health issues, which was a condition of her hospital discharge, but she ultimately left the outpatient group therapy program early to support her new record. “I realized that the record company and everybody was depending on me, and I had to come back,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “I had an album coming out … they’ve already pushed it four times. So I decided to pull myself together.”

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

That time Fantasia Barrino's own papa sued

Most parents would be proud of their kids for writing a book, but Fantasia Barrino’s father was furious with her 2005 memoir, Life is Not a Fairy Tale. According to People, the tell-all autobiography painted him as a father who struggled to support his family and “sacrificed his kids’ education” in favor of their music industry careers. It also alleged that he asked his daughter for money, but Barrino is a platinum-selling artist. Is that really so bad? Apparently, yes, and he was angry enough to sue.

People reports that Joseph Barrino “filed a $10 million libel lawsuit against Simon & Schuster over his portrayal.” Joseph told Entertainment Weekly that he had no issues with his famous daughter, but he did point fingers at the book’s reported ghostwriter and Fantasia’s maternal grandmother, Addie Collins, for providing the allegedly bad information. He claimed that Fantasia said she didn’t write the disputed passages and that the “publishers put that stuff in there without her knowledge.” Fantasia, on the other hand, said none of what her dad said was true. Her grandmother wasn’t even involved.

In the past, Life is Not a Fairy Tale was met with controversy because of alleged falsehoods. People reports that American Idol‘s producers rejected how they were portrayed in the Lifetime movie adaptation, claiming they never encouraged Barrino to drop out of the competition under the reasoning that a single teenage mom “was not a suitable role model.” What’s the truth? We’ll probably never know.

Playing herself in a Lifetime movie wasn't easy

Fantasia Barrino may have had a lot of success with the Lifetime movie adaptation of her memoir, Life is Not a Fairy Tale, but it was a huge gamble — especially when it came to her mental health. The star made the controversial decision to play herself in the film, which meant she had to relive the trauma of her childhood sexual assault in the name of her art. This was something she initially refused to do.

“I didn’t think it was going to be tough going back playing myself, but it was because I had to relive those moments,” Barrino told the Associated Press during the Television Critics Association’s summer meeting in 2006 (via People). “At the end, I began to cry and I said, ‘I went through all those things, but I know why I share my life.’ I’m thankful that I was able to do it.”

As we know, Barrino ultimately went through with filming the sexual assault scene, despite originally telling director Debbie Allen that she wouldn’t. Allen’s son played her abuser, and Barrino revealed (via People) that his warmth and sense of humor helped make the difficult moment a whole lot easier. The American Idol winner’s dedication really paid off. According to MTV NewsLife is Not a Fairy Tale was the “second-most-watched movie” in Lifetime history.

No money, mo' problems

Fantasia Barrino has been plagued with financial problems, which is a little surprising considering she’s made Forbes‘ list of American Idol‘s top earners. According to the New York Post, Barrino’s $1.3 million home in North Carolina allegedly went into foreclosure in late 2008, when Florida-based company Broward Energy Management, which reportedly lent her money to pay back taxes owed to the IRS, claimed she had defaulted on a $58,000 loan. MTV News reports that Barrino was able to keep the property after striking a deal, with the rumor mill claiming Simon Cowell stepped in to make payments (but this idea originated in the National Enquirer, so who knows?).

Barrino later came out with her side of the foreclosure story in 2010 while promoting her VH1 series Fantasia For Real. “I am still in my house, it wasn’t a foreclosure and no, Simon Cowell did not help me pay any of my bills, though I thought that story was cute,” she told CNN. So, what happened? Barrino revealed that she had “a lot of different lawsuits” and “people just trying to come after me.” She also apparently had a lawyer who “wasn’t showing up for court,” and the court ended up putting both of her homes up for auction even though she was paying her bills.

According to TMZ, Barrino signed over her home to the bank in 2013 after unsuccessfully putting it on the market in order to avoid the whole process of a foreclosure.

Fantasia Barrino was a Broadway no-show

Fantasia Barrino made her Broadway debut starring as Celie in Oprah Winfrey’s The Color Purple. Though Broadway World reports the singer was met with “rave reviews” and boosted box office sales, her short tenure was marred with controversy. According to Playbill, the star missed 60 performances — and it reportedly cost the theatre production as much as a whopping $1 million worth of tickets, per People

Barrino opened up about the controversial matter during an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show. Most of us don’t typically have to meet with our bosses in front of an audience and explain our poor attendance. Typically, that’s best left to an email, but then again, our bosses aren’t Oprah. According to Broadway World, the singer-actress revealed that she pushed herself too hard and developed two tumors on her vocal cords which required surgery.

“I had never done a Broadway play,” Barrino said (via Broadway World). “I wasn’t really prepared for what all comes with it. That’s a lot on Broadway — eight shows a week … I would get very tired, not enough sleep. I was pushing myself.”

Fantasia Barrino's custody battle, take two

In 2014, Fantasia Barrino graced headlines yet again over a custody case. This time, however, it was her own. According to OK! Magazine, the singer-actress’ high school ex-boyfriend, Brandel Shouse, waited more than a decade after their split to file for custody of their then-13-year-old daughter, Zion. Apparently, he wanted to be the primary parent and get child support payments, but per TMZ‘s report, Barrino claimed he’s “never had a relationship” with his daughter nor offered up a cent for her expenses.

Barrino and Shouse had a notably tumultuous relationship. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, the Grammy-winner revealed that she had been in “abusive relationships with constant fighting and black eyes” before moving in with a “man who took good care” of her and Zion when her daughter was about two years old. Considering Zion was born in 2001 and Barrino split with Shouse in 2003, this statement seemingly points a finger at her ex. According to OK! Magazine, Shouse even owned up to punching the singer in her episode of Behind the Music.

It’s unclear exactly what happened with Zion’s custody case, but TMZ reports that Barrino was ready to fight it by asking Shouse to pay child support.

Fantasia Barrino's controversial secret to marriage

Everyone loves a fairy tale love story, but fans seriously questioned if that’s what Fantasia Barrino got when she married Kendall Taylor after just three weeks of dating. In 2019, the star went on The Breakfast Club and shared her secrets to a lasting marriage, the most important of which was “submission.” Excuse us?

“Most women are trying to be the leader. That’s why you can’t find a man,” she said. “[Women] can’t be the king in the house. Fall back and be the queen and let your man lead the way … It’s a generational curse in how society have placed our men, and women have to stand up and be the mother and the father and the provider.”

After the obvious backlash that ensued, Barrino took to Instagram in September 2019 with her hubby to clarify their apparent shared beliefs. Taylor claimed, “Submission is supposed to be a beautiful song and dance between two lovers. What’s happened is men have abused that power. Forgive me, they’ve abused that gift.” He also said love isn’t ruling with an “iron fist,” so there’s that?

We're hearing you now, Fantasia Barrino

Fantasia Barrino certainly didn’t do herself any PR favors when she announced an event called “Hear Me Now — All Lives Matter” in 2016. Of course, it was canceled, if only for what might be the poorest timing of any event ever. According to The Washington Post, five days before the concert was scheduled to happen in Charlotte, N.C., “police there fatally shot Keith Lamont Scott, a 43-year-old black man.”

Barrino’s event put her in the middle of the Black Lives Matter debate, before it was punctuated with the very thing the movement has protested against. Per The Washington Post, the BLM movement rallies against “the disproportionate number of unarmed black men who have been killed at the hands of police,” but naysayers claim it leaves out those with different ethnic backgrounds. Thus, “All Lives Matter” emerged as the opposition’s response, which The New York Times argues misses the whole point (noting that, of course, all lives matter, but this isn’t about those lives right now). 

As a woman of color, appearing to stand with “All Lives Matter” is a powerful statement — one many would argue is misguided — but Barrino isn’t alone in that camp. According to The Washington Post, Jennifer Lopez, Keke Palmer, and Fetty Wap have all caught heat for using the catchphrase.

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