In 2004, 19-year-old Fantasia Barrino went from a single mother to an international music sensation. Just four weeks after being crowned the American Idol, her debut single, "I Believe," rocketed to the top of the charts. Her first album, Free Yourself, went double platinum and earned four Grammy nominations.
In 2007, Fantasia joined the Broadway cast of The Color Purple, opening to rave reviews and standing ovations. With her musical achievements, tours, a best-selling book and a movie about her life, it appeared there was nothing she couldn't do.
Soon, Fantasia's meteoric rise turned into a troubling free fall. Sales for her second album were disappointing, and Fantasia says she started feeling the pressure as sole breadwinner for her family. Her financial problems—including almost losing her home—made headlines.
Fantasia gained 30 pounds, and her reputation took a hit when she missed numerous performances of The Color Purple. "I was on Broadway for a year," she says. "Toward the end, I kind of lost control. Everything was going down the drain."
After winning American Idol, Fantasia says she thought her biggest struggles were behind her. "When [Ryan Seacrest] said my name, I felt like change had come and the curse had been broken and I can finally show, regardless of what you've been through, you can still go after your dreams and your visions," she says.
Still, with success came a new set of challenges. Fantasia began supporting her entire family and left financial and career decisions to others. "I was young, fresh in the game, and I just wanted to sing, without really understanding that you still have to watch after everything that you have going for you," she says. "You have to take care of your money. You have to meet with your lawyers and look over your schedule and figure out what it is that you have going on. Because it could be too much. People could just be running you and using you and abusing your gift."
Fantasia says leaving her affairs in the hands of others is what landed her home on the auction block—not foreclosure, as had been reported in the media. "It was very embarrassing because I had people showing up at my house where my daughter is and they were asking, 'Could they come see it?'" she says.
Fantasia's life spiraled even more out of control when she missed many performances of The Color Purple. "So much so that we had to pay back the audience more than a half a million dollars," Oprah says. "But more than the money, though, The Color Purple was, for so many people, the first time that they had ever seen a Broadway play, ... and then you weren't there."
Fantasia says she had never even seen a Broadway play before signing on to play Celie, a a physically and emotionally demanding role. and wasn't prepared physically or emotionally for the life of a Broadway performer"Here I am dealing with my situation, Fantasia's life—which is paying the bills, making sure everybody at home is straight," she says. "Then dealing with Broadway and dealing with this young lady who's being told she's ugly every day and going through so many things. It became an overload on me."
Fantasia also kept a secret few people knew—she was battling a serious health issue. Fantasia says she noticed something was wrong near the end of The Color Purple. She had to take IV fluids between performances for dehydration and always felt tired.
Fantasia finally saw a doctor after the curtain closed on her Broadway run. Two benign tumors were discovered on her vocal chords. "He told me, 'We've got to take these off, and it might be a chance where you might not be able to sing like you used to,'" she says.
The surgery was a success. "I couldn't work or sing for six weeks," she says. "But I'm good as gold now."
During her recovery, Fantasia should have been focused on her health. Instead, she worried about providing for her daughter and the six unemployed adults living in her home. "I couldn't sing or talk for six weeks, and no money was coming in," she says.
At the time, Fantasia still had others handling her affairs—and says she hit rock bottom when she found out she couldn't even afford a pizza. "The pizza lady says, 'Well, the card declined,'" she says. "At that point I knew that I had been mishandled. Because there should have been no way that there wasn't any pizza money."
Fantasia says she then experienced a moment of truth. "I couldn't go to anybody else in my home and ask them for anything because I had been doing everything."
Fantasia vowed to take back her life. She has allowed television cameras to document her path back to the top on VH1's Fantasia for Real. The show captures everything from Fantasia's lavish spending on her daughter to how family members react when Fantasia decides to stop bankrolling their every need and want.
Fantasia says the show has been a major reality check. "When I won [American Idol], I just wanted to see all of my family happy. And I created that monster," she says. "When I began to give, give, give, everybody was like: 'Hey, this is the good life. I can sit back home.'"
The show has also forced Fantasia's family to take a hard look at themselves. "A lot of times the cameras go with me on the road," she says. "So as they sit and watch, some of them have come up and said: 'Man, I'm sorry. I didn't even know. You work real hard.'"
Through her trials and triumphs, Fantasia says she hasn't changed—she's just grown up. "I can't do the same things I used to do," she says.
After almost losing it all, Fantasia says she's learned some important lessons too. "I will say no with a quickness now," she says.
Fantasia has also learned to take back her life. "I have to be in control of it all," she says. "I'm glad that I went through it because now it has made me stronger and wiser, and I know that I can't allow people to just take control of my destiny."