It's been a busy seven months for Fantasia. The singer/songwriter began starring in the Tony-nominated Broadway musical "After Midnight," which bowed last November. Then she and the cast — with Gladys Knight and Patti LaBelle — opened the Tony Awards. "I was so happy to be onstage with Gladys and Patti. I had a smile from ear to ear," says Fantasia.
A week later, 2004's "American Idol" champ found herself onstage at the Hollywood Bowl, performing for the first time at the Playboy Jazz Festival (June 15). By then she'd learned that "After Midnight"—nominated for seven Tonys and a winner for choreography—was closing owing to modest sales. But that hasn't dampened Fantasia's keep-on-pushing spirit. Her last album, 2013's "Side Effects of You," bowed at No. 1 on Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and No. 2 on the Billboard 200. Now prepping for her fifth album, the personable singer talks about her "rock soul" movement, working with Harmony Samuels ("my Quincy Jones") and marking 10 years in the game.
What are your thoughts on the closing of "After Midnight"?
It makes me sad. Gladys Knight was supposed to go on after Patti Labelle [the show's current guest star]. That was the first Broadway show that I started with. Those young people I worked with became like family to me. I saw how hard they worked; I know how much they love and respect jazz music. They're talented and will do great things. But I'm also sad because I felt it was a much-needed play for people to know that jazz still lives. The music is great. So hopefully someone else will come back out with something like that so young people will know where music really started.
Your name doesn't immediately come to mind when discussing jazz festival performers. Or should it?
This is the kind of house [the Hollywood Bowl] and the kind of events I've always wanted to do. With me and my story, there have been a lot of setbacks. To finally be able to come back in a good space, I was honored to do the festival. I just left an amazing Broadway play in which I was doing jazz music. And, oh God, I love it.
Do you plan to hook up again with producer Harmony Samuels for your next album?
We're going back in the studio soon. I feel like I should always do albums with Harmony because he gets me. He's like my Quincy Jones. We started "Side Effects of You" from scratch with him going to the keyboard and just playing things. I'd be like, "I like that. Keep going." Whenever you can create an album like that, it's amazing. You don't find that anymore. Normally you go into the studio and the producer gives you a track or the song is already written. Harmony allows me to be me.
And will the album expand on the "rock soul" fusion you introduced on "Side Effects"?
This whole rock soul direction has been on my heart. I'll always be soulful: I started singing in the church at the age of five. So that will never go anywhere. But there's a certain side of me that wants to tap into that whole rock world. It's hard to come from R&B to that. But it's something I believe in and will fight for. This will be my fifth album and 10 years in the game for me. Musically I've grown, and in my life I've grown. I want all of that reflected in my music for this album.
What else is still on your wish list?
You know, everything I've done were not things I planned. They all came to me. I look at that as God works in mysterious ways. I worked with producer Scott Sanders on "The Color Purple." Then he came back and asked me to do "After Midnight." I've done a book ["Life Is Not a Fairy Tale"} and a Lifetime movie [based on the autobiography]. But I am working on a Rock Soul label. I happen to be that artist who goes "whoo yes" when I hear other good artists. Right now, I'm working with a young girl group as well as my own clothing line. I always say whatever God has for me, I'll give 250% to do my best at it.
What's been the easiest and hardest part of your 10-year journey?
There hasn't been an easy part at all, not in my journey [laughs]. But I'm grateful because it made me the woman I am now. I'll be 30 on June 30. So I can say wow, I'm so glad I've touched the things I don't want to touch at 30 and done the things that I don't want to do at 30. But even with things I do now, someone's always going to try and find something. At this point, however, it really doesn't matter. I'm not trying to please anyone. I just want to have peace and be able to hit the stage and sing. If you like it, thank you. If you don't, I'm sorry. I think I would go crazy if I couldn't hit the stage. It's my therapy. It's the place where I can just let loose and be free. It's also my way of giving God back the glory for giving me this gift.
How would you describe Fantasia then and Fantasia now?
Fantasia then was young, green, gullible, fun. She's still fun now, but wiser. And I'm still full of joy, which is easy to lose in this game. I'm happy for everything I went through because I can put it on the stage, put it in my music and share it with other young ladies. I can tell them what it is and what it ain't, give it to them real so they won't do the same thing.