BILLBOARD: Strong sales and musical identity propel the 'Idol' winner's fourth album.
As the "American Idol" final four tuned up for another showdown recently, season-three winner Fantasia found herself back in the spotlight as well. That's because her fourth album, "Side Effects of You" (19 Recordings/RCA), debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and No. 2 on the Billboard 200.
The debut positions of Fantasia's latest album resemble the performance of 2010's "Back to Me," which has sold 490,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Adding in 2006's "Fantasia" and 2004's "Free Yourself," the Grammy Award winner accounts for 2.9 million albums sold and is the fifth-largest-selling "Idol" contestant behind Carrie Underwood (14.2 million), Kelly Clarkson (12.3 million), Chris Daughtry (6.8 million) and Clay Aiken (5.1 million). Fantasia is also the biggest seller among "Idol" R&B acts.
So what triggered her new album's strong debuts? One factor: Fantasia's resonating performance of lead single "Lose to Win" during her April 18 return to the "Idol" stage. Currently No. 4 on the Adult R&B chart, the track's resulting digital sales spike gave her an eighth top 10-a tally that includes 13-week No. 1 "Truth Is." Fantasia also counts four top 10s on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, including the No. 1 "When I See You."
Another contributing factor is Fantasia's commitment to the musical direction she has taken, giving her a clear creative identity and solid fan base. It's a fusion she dubs "rock soul," melding her rock (Queen, Tina Turner) and R&B/soul influences (Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Patti LaBelle).
"I wouldn't say the label really wanted me to go in this direction," Fantasia explains. "But I'm glad they respected my vision, allowing me to do me."
Fantasia's vision also included working primarily with one producer-Harmony Samuels (Kelly Rowland, Chris Brown)-and penning a majority of the tracks with a team of writers ranging from Andrea Martin and Emeli Sandé to Missy Elliott and Courtney Harrell. The title track was produced by Naughty Boy.
Paired with Samuels by RCA executive VP/head of A&R Keith Naftaly, Fantasia says she knew by the second day in the studio there was a special connection. "I'd been writing down a lot of thoughts and feelings during my time away," she recalls. "So I wanted to be able to pour my heart into this, not hold anything back. He picked up on that. It wasn't just about producing an album to make money. He genuinely wanted to see me deliver and be able to perform in a different mind-set."
Guest features are limited to Big K.R.I.T. on the engaging "Supernatural Love" and Rowland and Elliott on the colorful declaration "Without Me." Tagged as the second single, the latter recently went for adds at mainstream R&B radio.
It's the latest step in a marketing campaign designed to bring Fantasia before a wider audience. In addition to "Idol," RCA senior VP of marketing Carolyn Williams and VP of publicity Theola Borden point to appearances on the highly rated cable concert special "Centric Live: Fantasia at the Fillmore" (April 20), "Good Morning America" (April 24), Bravo's "Watch What Happens Live!" and CNN's "Showbiz Tonight" (both April 25) and "The View" (April 29) as major components in the label's rollout, which began in February.
The next phase will target late-night TV, a tour and additional fashion spreads (Fantasia earlier appeared on the cover of Upscale magazine), focusing on the singer's more colorful and sophisticated imaging. "This Fantasia wants to step out now," the singer says with a laugh. "It took a while for me to get there -- I had insecurities. But I'm more confident and comfortable with the woman I've become."
She will be drawing on that hard-won confidence when she hits the stage with an unlikely partner in June: Andrea Bocelli. During five select dates on Bocelli's tour, including June 8 at the Hollywood Bowl, Fantasia will duet with the classical tenor on some of his greatest hits in Italian and English.
"It's great positioning and shows her depth as an artist," RCA's Williams says. "You can't put Fantasia in a box. She's a trained vocalist who can push the envelope into many different types of music."