Fantasia's Memoirs Reveal Experiences With Illiteracy, Rape

ByABC News

Sept. 30, 2005 — -- Fantasia Barrino's debut, platinum-selling album included the song, "Truth Is," and that sentiment is the overriding theme in her memoirs.

Two years after winning "American Idol" as a high school dropout and struggling single mother, the 21-year-old is riding high with her success. She's about to go on tour, is embarking on an acting career, and is publishing her memoirs which reveal dark secrets from her past.

The singer, known to her fans as simply Fantasia, admits that while charming American television viewers and wooing the judges to become a pop star, she was hiding the fact that she was barely able to read or write.

"You're illiterate to just about everything. You don't want to misspell," Fantasia told "20/20." "So that, for me, kept me … in a box and I didn't, wouldn't come out."

Her illiteracy kept her from even trying to get a job before her stint on television. "I was so ashamed and I was like, 'What will people say about me?' I can't get a job," she said.

The singer describes herself as functionally illiterate, and is brutally honest about her challenges in her new memoir, "Life is Not a Fairy Tale," which she dictated to a freelance writer.

Reading even simple things, she acknowledges, is difficult. She can barely make out or pronounce unfamiliar words. So how was she able to perform on the scripted portions of "American Idol"? Fantasia said she would fake it and apologize if she pronounced something incorrectly.

"Somebody would say, 'You know, it's pronounced this way' and I'd be like, 'Oh, I'm sorry, you know, I'm country, you know."

Since most of the songs were familiar to her it worked, until show producers handed her a song she did not know: Gershwin's hit "Summertime" from "Porgy and Bess."

Afraid the vocal coach would discover she couldn't read the lyrics, Fantasia listened to the words, memorized them and did such a good job the sultry tune became her theme song.

Growing up in a poor section of High Point, N.C., Fantasia always dreamed of becoming a pop star.

She said her attitude was that she was "not into education," because she could sing.

Her family didn't notice she was struggling to read, especially because many of them had trouble, too, including her mom. "It took her a long time to come out and tell me that," said Fantasia.

Fantasia and her mother are hardly the exceptions. An estimated 25 million Americans are functionally illiterate – that's one out of every five adults.

That means she has difficulty reading a street sign or newspaper, not to mention legal documents.

Since her "American Idol" victory Fantasia has signed record deals and contracts she didn't read and couldn't understand. "Didn't even know what I was signing. Just sign the contract," said Fantasia.

She says the most difficult thing is that she cannot read a book to her 4-year-old daughter, Zion: "That hurts really bad."

She said when Zion asks her to read she brushes it off and tells her, "Not right now."

But Fantasia said she can no longer wait for "later."

She's now determined to break the cycle of illiteracy for the sake of her daughter, and is working with tutors to learn how to read.

Fantasia also revealed another secret from her past.

She says in her memoir she was raped in the ninth grade by a popular boy on whom she had a crush. She claims he abused her in the school auditorium, and she went straight home and got into bed.

"And my mom comes upstairs and she says, 'Something is wrong with you.' I wouldn't even talk. She says, 'Have you been touched?' I still said nothing," said Fantasia. "I laid in that bed for two days. I wouldn't even go to school."

Fantasia finally told the truth to her mother and says the boy was disciplined, but it was Fantasia who suffered, blaming the incident on her own behavior. "One point in time I was saying it was my fault – just because of the way I was dressed, I caused it on myself," Fantasia said.

She dropped out of school later that year, and by age 17 Fantasia had become an unwed mother.

Now a successful singer, Fantasia says she has a reason for opening up her life in this fashion.

"I want people to just to see, all you got to do is have a little faith," said Fantasia. "Have a little faith. Don't give up."

She is continuing to work with her tutors and hopes someday to be able to read to her daughter, and to fully understand the legal contracts that could make her rich.

That, she hopes, will inspire others.

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