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Fantasia 

Free Yourself

Wednesday, Jan 5 2005
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Last spring, more than 65 million votes were cast in Fantasia Barrino's American Idol victory. For those living under a rock who don't know about this 20-year-old single mother from North Carolina with the tear-jerking voice, know this: She is the best singer the show has ever had. In stark contradiction to AI's image-molding nature, Fantasia's delivery was already polished when she began recording her debut album, and so her renditions of standards here sound merely a notch tighter than the performances she delivered on the program (George Gershwin's "Summertime," Willie Nelson's "You Were Always on My Mind"). Epitomizing the album's title, Fantasia also unloads some adventurous R&B tunes written and produced by guest hit-mak\ers Missy Elliott, Jazze Pha, and Rodney Jerkins. It is on these songs that the singer is allowed to be young, fresh, and street-focused -- i.e., herself -- rather than conform to a talent-show format. Like many of us, you may be loath to pick up anything AI-related, but trust me, Fantasia is the show's best-case scenario, a formerly undiscovered talent who now has a chance to shine.

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Tamara Palmer

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