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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Fantasia - Side Effects of You

The first time I saw Fantasia Barrino sing on American Idol, I didn't get it.

She was performing in the semifinal round, singing to judges who had already fallen in love with her and were selling her to the audience as the season's clear frontrunner. Being the snobby dork that I am, what I heard was a gravelly voice that seemed to be more into melisma and ornamentation than singing a song. It was flashy, yes; it was also out of rhythm, the pitch was wobbly and even though I now can't remember the song she was singing, the melismania she was displaying was wholly wrong for it. When she passed through to the finals, I figured America would finally catch on to the lack of substance and bounce her from the competition.

Obviously, that didn't happen. In fact, as the season went on, Fantasia (along with her fellow divas Latoya London and, who was the other one, the one who came in seventh? Oh right, JENNIFER HUDSON) delivered great performance after great performance, turning me into a fervent supporter and (mostly) cruising to take the third season crown. I couldn't wait for her to dominate the music world and, when her single "Truth Is" came out, I figured her omnipresence was just beginning.

Obviously, that didn't happen either. Fantasia has had a great career, including a ton of success on the R&B charts and a stint in The Color Purple where she made the fickle Tony Awards crowd stand up and lose their minds, but she never became a Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood or even a Jordin Sparks. I would wonder why before ruefully admitting that I really wanted her to succeed but had never actually bothered to buy or even listen to any of her albums. When I noticed Side Effects of You had been released this past year, I decided to remedy that. AM I EVER GLAD I DID.

Fantasia of 2013 is a much different, more accomplished singer than Fantasia of 2004. The choices she makes, whether it's in where an ad-lib or exhortation should be in a chorus or bridge, or transitioning from her raspy belt into a surprisingly clear, effective head voice, stomping over an old-school R&B beat or icily giving an ex the kiss-off, always connect. It helps that the material can stand up to her voice; most of the songs are collaborations with producer Harmony Samuels, a name I don't know but plan to look into in the future. The best example of their synergy is the single "Without Me", which also pulls in fantastic assists from Kelly Rowland and Missy Elliott to create a majestic groove over which the women take turns giving a fool his walking papers. It's one of those songs that made me instantly hit repeat the first time I heard it and, if I was ranking 2013 singles, it would have a strong chance at being my favorite. Other standouts include "Get It Right", "Ain't All Bad", "End of Me", "Change Your Mind" and "Supernatural Love".

Fantasia - Side Effects of You on Spotify

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