Fantasia: That's what everybody made it seem like. I knew I couldn't just get a job in a store, because I wasn't good at counting, and I didn't want to mess up anybody's money. And every time I tried to fill out an application, I wouldn't finish it because I wasn't a strong enough reader. My only plan was to sing.
Oprah: When was the first time you saw American Idol?
Fantasia: My daughter was about 2, and I was living with a man who took good care of us. I had been in abusive relationships with constant fighting and black eyes, but this man taught me that abuse wasn't love. He told me I was beautiful. Anyway, I remember all my friends talking about the show, but I never watched until the episode Ruben Studdard won. I just cried and cried.
Oprah: For him or for yourself?
Fantasia: Both. I had given up on myself. I was crying because someone had finally gotten something he wanted. I was also a little angry: Why am I sitting here in the ghetto, living on food stamps and a tiny government check? I'll be honest: Those checks just weren't enough, and I had to steal what I needed—diapers, milk, food. Some of the girls I hung out with, dated guys who were drug dealers. They had the money to provide for their children, and they would brag about what they had. At Christmas I stole a couple of educational toys for Zion because I didn't want her to turn out like me—I tried to teach her everything I could. Even now I want to get all the education I can so that when she gets home from school, I can help her with her homework. But living like that was hard.
Oprah: It's designed to be hard. It's not the government's job to break the cycle of educational impoverishment; that's your responsibility. If it was easy, you might still be in that situation.
Fantasia: It's true. After I saw Ruben win, that's when I thought, "Okay, I've got to do something." I found out that the next auditions were in Atlanta. I didn't have money or a car, so my grandmother and aunt gave me about $50 and filled up the gas tank of my brother Rico's Oldsmobile. People in High Point started talking: "I think that Fantasia girl is tryin' to sing again." I felt like I was coming back; I had faith again.
Oprah: So when you got to the audition at the Georgia Dome—I love this part of your story—the place is flooded with potential contestants…
Fantasia: There were thousands of people! I couldn't believe there were so many singers in the world. After I made it past the first round, one of the security guards—a sweet old black man—called me over and we talked and laughed as if we'd known each other forever. He said, "You're going to make it through." I had my doubts, but he kept reassuring me. Rico and I were up at 6 the next morning, but when we got there, the doors were already locked. About a hundred of us were outside, but the security guards told us to go home. While everyone else was cussing and fussing, I prayed like I ain't never prayed before! But they didn't let us in. We cried on the way to our cousin's house, where we were staying. We called home, and everyone said, "You go back there!" So we did. Everyone else was gone, but just then, the security guard I'd met the day before walked by. I told him what happened, and he went inside and came back with an American Idol assistant, who got me in. Out of more than 40,000 people, I was the last person to audition. I've never seen that security guard again, never even knew his name. I talk about him in interviews, thinking he'll pop up and say, "That was me." He never has.
Oprah: He was your angel, honey. You've said the experience restored your hope.