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‘The Card Declined’: The Lessons  Fantasia Barrino Learned After Losing Her Riches Twice

Despite being one of the most successful talents to emerge from any of television’s musical competition reality shows, “American Idol” winner Fantasia Barrino has had a complicated history with money. After earning millions of dollars, the R&B chart-topper knows what it is like to lose every red cent.

Now, after experiencing bankruptcy, losing her home, and having to rely on the generosity of others, the artist, who many say is the keeper of the flame for classic soul singing, has learned several wealth management tools for securing the wealth she earns.

American Idol Fame and Fortune

In 2004, Barrino, then 19, made history as the youngest person to ever win “American Idol”. The season 3 standout faced stiff competition as she went up against other award-winning belters like EGOT Jennifer Hudson. Still, the contests were not the biggest challenges for her. The greatest obstacle for the singer was overcoming her demons connected to being raped as a high school student, becoming a teen mother, trusting the wrong people, and not knowing how to read. She carried those shadows deep in her spirit, letting them out only when she sang.

Her passionate emoting in each performance afforded her not just the winner’s title, but a deal with Sony Music Entertainment at 19 and later a life-changing contract worth $1 million with J Records working with star-maker Clive Davis. 

After a while, the hits started coming in. She was commanding tens of thousands of dollars for concert performances. Her debut album, “Free Yourself” (2004), was certified platinum and her sophomore album, “Fantasia” (2006), went gold. Everything seemed to be going well, and so, she was spending a lot of the advance money that was coming in.

The same year her second album was released, she dropped her New York Times best-selling autobiography, “Life Is Not a Fairy Tale,” and appeared in a movie on the Lifetime network based on the book.

As if things could not seem more magical, she was invited to join the Broadway cast of “The Color Purple,” cast in the leading role, Miss Celie.

Her fee for the acting gig, as well as the book and film deals, were negotiated by her management team and funneled revenue to the star.

Moving Like a “Star

Fantasia was also moving like a star. One of the first major purchases she made, according to Borderless and Beyond, was a 4,541-square-foot property for $740,000.

Then the North Carolina native became the sole breadwinner for her entire family, including her mother, her adult siblings, and her 8-year-old daughter.

In an interview with Oprah, she said she felt like winning the show and all of the good things that came with that was her express pass out of troubled times, saying, “I felt like change had come and the curse had been broken.”

The problem was that Barrino’s team wasn’t telling her she was spending more than she was actually making as an artist, and because she trusted them, they started stealing from her.

While her second album yielded her hit songs like “When I See You,” the sales were disappointing and did not hit anticipated markers for the label. She started to gain weight, packing on over 30 pounds, and not showing up to her Broadway gig. The “no shows” on the Great White Way cost the producers hundreds of thousands in refunds and gave her a bad reputation in the industry at the same time everything seemed to be publicly falling apart.

Oprah addressed her disappointment as the main producer. “So much so that we had to pay back the audience more than a half a million dollars,” Oprah said. “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 said, “I was on Broadway for a year. Toward the end, I kind of lost control. Everything was going down the drain.”

Taking on Family Debt

“Here I am dealing with my situation, Fantasia’s life — which is paying the bills, making sure everybody at home is straight,” she told the media maven. “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.”

To make matters worse, she also developed benign tumors on her vocal cords, a huge threat to her livelihood. All of a sudden, in her mid-20s, her life just became unbearable, and she didn’t have the tools to climb out of her financial and emotional ditch.

In a Financial and Emotional Spiral

The pressures of being the moneymaker, coupled with unresolved trauma from her past (like her father suing her for defamation in her book and movie) that blinded her from really getting to know her team, nearly destroyed her.

In 2010, the singer reportedly attempted to take her own life.

“I just sat in the closet and looked at the mirror and took all the pills in the bottle,” Fantasia said. “I knew exactly what I was doing. You can’t accidentally take a whole bottle of pills.”

Speaking honestly about her role in her demise, she remembered, “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.”

“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.”

By this time, she could no longer afford her home and had to turn it over to the bank for auction. The residence sold for $465,000, a little more than half of what she paid for it.

When talking about losing her home, she thought about her daughter, “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?'”

No Pizza Money

But that was not her rock bottom. Not being able to buy a slice of pizza was.

Remembering that time, she said, “The pizza lady says, ‘Well, the card declined.’ At that point, I knew that I had been mishandled. Because there should have been no way that there wasn’t any pizza money.”

Things started to take a turn when she accepted the responsibility of enabling those around her and not being on top of her business as she should have.

“I created that monster,” she once said. “When I began to give, give, give, everybody was like: ‘Hey, this is the good life. I can sit back home.'”

In an interview with Tammi Mac on 102.3FM KJLH, she was honest about something that many artists in hip-hop and R&B lie about.

“A lot of artists that you see, they look like they have it, and we smile and we come out and we put on a good show, but in real life, some of them are struggling and we don’t have it,” she told the host.

Building Back and Taking Control

“I’m just now building myself back up. I lost everything twice,” she revealed. “So, I cook my own food. I don’t need no chef. I’m from North Carolina; my grandma and my mama taught me how to cook.”

In addition to changing how she lived and slimming down her payroll and budget, she changed her circles. One of her friends who stood by her when things were really rough is the billionaire behind the “Madea” franchise (someone knows a little something about being knocked down).

Fantasia shared, “Tyler Perry’s actually a good friend of mine. He would call and check up on me. He was one of the ones, when I lost everything, he came and blessed me. And I thank him for that,” she said.

He also taught her lessons about her own value and not letting people exploit her.

“You look around and you could be working for 10 years, you’ve got all these people on your team, you’re paying this person, that person, and you look up, and you don’t have no money in the bank because you’ve given it to everybody else,” the singer said, before saying when one is not in control of their finances, they are “prostituting” their gifts.

“That’s what I said about prostituting your gift. You have a gift and you’re allowing everybody else to profit off of the gift,” she stated.

Now the singer and her husband are in full control over her finances and her career, with an estimated net worth of $5 million. The family capitalized on real estate. After buying her dream home, a 6,600-square-foot Charlotte mansion for $1.3 million, she and her husband sold it for a profit.

Between real estate, her indie music label, acting, and touring, she has dramatically changed her life and finally broke the curse that she so desperately wanted to shatter.

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