Fantasia performed at Constitution Hall on Tuesday as if all the public drama she's packed into her years in the spotlight has taken a toll. The 2004 "American Idol" winner was introduced to the masses as an unwed teen mother, then wrote a book to tell everybody she was illiterate. More recently, there's her attempted suicide close to the release date of her latest disc, "Back to Me," after which she denied that swallowing a bottle of aspirin was a ploy to generate PR for the R&B record. The self-destructive act, she said, was instead related to the end of a love affair with a married cellphone salesman who according to the salesman's then-wife filmed intimate encounters between the illicit lovebirds. Whew.
She looked much older than her 26 years, and, though she can still hit the freakishly high shrieks that earned her the talent show title, rarely seemed focused on the songs during her 90-minute set. New tunes "I'm Doin' Me" and "Man of the House" were scattered affairs that went nowhere despite the efforts of her powerful backing band. She took breaks every few songs to change hair-dos and outfits, and even took off her shoes for much of the night, but no ensemble left her comfortable.
The show had some musical highlights, most coming on covers. She briefly ignored her demons while dancing through Prince's "Kiss" and crooning the Diana Ross smash, "Do You Know Where You're Going To?" She put on a big Afro wig, and as the screen above the stage showed vintage images of the Black Panthers, Fantasia asked everybody in the audience to give the "Black Power" fist as the band broke into the Beatles' "Come Together" (key parts of which John Lennon lifted from Chuck Berry). And after telling security to let fans behave as they wished, Fantasia, who had been shouting "DC!" every 45 seconds or so, paid tribute to the town's indigenous music and caused a claustrophobic's nightmare by launching into "Overnight Scenario" from go-go faves Rare Essence.
But the wacky vibe was occasionally overbearing. When she reprised "I'm Here," a song she sang on Broadway while playing the lead in "The Color Purple," Fantasia's eyes started tearing up and her lips began quivering wildly, and she took time between each line to look skyward and mouth "Oh, Lord" and "Oh, God!" away from the microphone. She fully bawled through the last lines, "I'm beautiful! And I'm here!" then walked offstage. For anybody who'd ever seen the climactic scenes of "The Rose," the 1979 feature film about an unraveling pop idol, this looked familiar.