Next week brings the final voting opportunity for “American Idol”, in which viewers will have the chance to choose either Fantasia Barrino or Diana DeGarmo to be crowned the ultimate winner. In other words, viewers can either vote for a talented, dynamic, interesting performer, or they can vote for Diana DeGarmo.
The first, and most obvious, reason to vote for Fantasia is simple: talent. She is probably the most talented singer of the original 12 finalists, and is definitely more naturally talented than Diana.
Fantasia’s singing seems effortless, her pitch is always spot-on, and she has a natural dramatic flair that captures the attention without seeming forced. Unlike her chief competitor, Fantasia doesn’t need to begin each song by exhorting the audience to clap along with her; they do it anyway, because of her infectious charisma. That’s something that can’t be taught or learned. Performers either have it, or they don’t, and Fantasia has it.
But perhaps, as the judges have often stated, “American Idol” is not really about talent. Maybe it is a popularity contest, decided by determining which performer is the most likable and appealing. In that case, Fantasia is still the most deserving. She’s not a bland, sugarcoated, robotic teenybopper. Even though she's still young, this single mom has the life experience necessary to connect with her material. She’s shown that she’s not afraid to talk back to people like Simon Cowell, even though he has a huge influence over her musical career. She won’t just sit there and allow herself to be chewed up and spit out by the corporate music machine, because she has a strong sense of herself, and what works for her.
At times, Fantasia can come off as arrogant. She’s talented and she knows it. But isn’t that really more fascinating? Which contestant do you want to have in the public eye for the next six months or so? Fantasia will be both unpredictable and controversial. America already has one Kelly Clarkson. Do we really need another belter with a nondescript personality? Look at it this way: in ten years, would you rather see an episode of VH-1's “Behind the Music” about Diana or Fantasia?
Unlike most of the other “American Idol” success stories thus far, Fantasia will actually add something valuable to the world of music. Her voice and her style are not that of the typical pop idol. The judges have often compared her to Aretha Franklin or Mary J. Blige. What musician might Diana DeGarmo become? Another Leann Rimes? The musical landscape is littered with interchangeable teen pop queens like Hilary Duff. By combining the classic soul of the 1960s with gospel traditions, Fantasia will bring something fresh to the pop charts. Or we could all wait for Diana to release her next bland ballad, suitable for slow dances at proms and weddings in perpetuity.
There is a contingent of voters that wants Diana to win because they feel she will take it harder if she loses. It’s a pity vote. Don’t cry for Diana, America. She will probably be better off if she doesn’t win. First, let’s not kid ourselves. By making the final two, she will be given any number of career opportunities.
But even if that weren’t true, Diana is 16-years-old. The best thing that could happen to her would be if she had to go back home and just be a teenager for a few years. She could star in her high school musical, do some solos in the senior chorus, and maybe even attend college. Then, Diana could return to the musical scene with the one important thing that she currently lacks: life experience.
Fantasia deserves to be the new American Idol. She has shown her versatility by performing ballads and up-tempo songs equally well, she's got personality to spare, and she won't ever bore you to death with her mediocrity. There are dozens of Dianas in high school talent shows across the country, but there's only one Fantasia.
Kim Reed is a writer in Upstate New York