There has been plenty of American Idol nostalgia this year, with TV’s singing-competition juggernaut going off the air in April after 15 seasons. Fantasia Barrino took the crown in Season 3—back in the good old days of Simon, Paula and Randy—and she has since built a solid career as an R&B artist, including a Grammy win for 2010’s “Bittersweet.”
But it’s her work on Broadway, starring in the musicals The Color Purple and After Midnight, that informs her fifth album, The Definition Of… You can hear it on the set’s show-stopper, “Sleeping with the One I Love,” a throwback torch song that pours on the drama with horns and strings. While it sounds like a standard that has been dusted off from the Cotton Club era, it’s actually a new song by R. Kelly(!). There’s more of that smoky, jazzy vibe throughout the LP, with Fantasia presiding over the affair as its soulful chanteuse.
Producer Ron Fair goes big with the arrangements on tracks like the ballad “Ugly” that sound like show tunes designed to bring down the house. Indeed, the take-you-to-church closer “I Made It”—featuring gospel star Tye Tribbett—sounds as if it could have been the big finale in The Color Purple (where Barrino starred as Celie in the original Broadway production).
But this uneven effort hedges its bets, going for a more contemporary R&B sound on “No Time,” which glosses over the grit of Fantasia’s voice. Elsewhere, Aloe Blacc adds an unnecessary rap to the brassy “Roller Coasters,” while “Wait for You” is a misguided dance-pop attempt. Fantasia is better off on the blues-hued “Lonely Legend,” on which her sultry, raspy delivery recalls a living legend: Tina Turner.
“Sleeping with the One I Love“
A jazzy torch song penned by R. Kelly
“I Made It”
A spiritual turn-up that shows Fantasia should make a gospel album.