I wrapped up the workweek loitering outside a radio station and thinking about celebrity. You would too if you watched four grown women agree to be pelted with water balloons in frigid temperatures, all for a chance to meet Fantasia Barrino. The 2004 American Idol blew through the Piedmont on a whirlwind media tour Friday and the assignment of tracking her every move fell on my weary shoulders. Beats covering City Hall. As for the women pictured here, they lived up to the agreement, trading in warm body temps and most of their dignity for a few breathy moments with the mini-diva. In the end they got their wish, and probably a wicked cold as well.
But the madness really kicked in once the Guest of Honor arrived. Ushered in through a back door, Fantasia joined myself and about thirty others in an on-air booth built to hold no more than four people. But who can blame the radio staff for turning out en masse? Its not every day a one-named media sensation graced these halls! During her struggle with Paula, Simon and Randy, this urban radio powerhouse championed Fantasia’s rise like no other media outlet, except of course my own employers, who recognized the ascendancy of this quirky single mother with the incredible pipes for what it truly was - a gift from the Rating Gods. It’s not often the hottest show on your network plucks a local home girl from obscurity and dubs her the new Queen of Soul. When it does happen, you crank up the hype machine and don’t ask why.
Of course for me, the day was filled with hovering on the brink. Poised over my ‘Record’ button, I spent of Fantasia’s visit walking backwards, guessing her next move and hoping I didn’t bash into any walls. Later in the day, when she joined my own stable of broadcasters for a LIVE(!) sit-down on our five o clock news, I rode point, documenting her every high five as the corridors of my TV station suddenly burst at the seams with curious staffers, print reporters and the occasional future stalker. it’s more than a little humorous to see colleagues who pooh-poohed all things American Idol clamor over each other for a chance to get an autograph from High Point’s favorite ghetto-fabulous songbird. I probably shouldn’t have body-checked that little old lady from Accounting like that, but her damn autograph book kept getting in my shot.
Throughout the melee, Fantasia herself remained delightful. Unlike many celebs who quickly buy into their own manufactured hype, Ms. Barrino appears relatively unchanged from her meteoric rise - though her bling-bling has certainly taken a sharp upturn from her days hanging out in the mean streets of High Pockets. But unfazed by the rocks that she got, Fantasia welcomed her fans and admirers with open arms. Literally. In the time she spent in my viewfinder, she probably hugged two hundred people - and we’re not talking half-hearted feigned embraces, but arms-around-the-neck sway-back-and-forth circulation-threatening clutches of the highest order. That is NOT the usual way people who grace magazine covers treat adoring strangers. So while I haven’t always been the most enthusiastic arbiter of American Idol, I AM a fan of Fantasia - if for no other reason because she still so closely resembles the inner-city sweetheart we knew her to be a year ago.
Now if we could only do something about that British guy in the muscle shirt.