“American Idol” winner Fantasia will perform songs from her new holiday album, “Christmas After Midnight,” at Durham Performing Arts Center.
Fantasia Barrino goes all out for Christmas.
For starters, she’s very particular about her Christmas trees – all five of them – and she wants them to look just right. She has a piano, and she and her husband and children often end up around it, singing songs together. There are board games going on – Scrabble, Monopoly – and this year, for the first time, her plan is to get a fire going in the fireplace and make drinks for the adults and hot chocolate for the kids.
“If I invited you to our house, you would be tired by the time you got home,” she says with a warm laugh.
This year, too, finds Fantasia (who performs and releases music under her first name) contributing to others’ Christmas traditions with her new holiday album “Christmas After Midnight.” It’s a ’60s-tinged record, with flavors of soul and big band. That was an era when families were close and celebrated the holidays together, Fantasia feels, and she hopes “Christmas After Midnight” will inspire her listeners to do exactly that.
On Dec. 6, she will bring those tunes to a Christmas show at the Durham Performing Arts Center.
The R&B vocalist and North Carolina native, 33, rose from high school dropout and teen mother to fame in 2004 as the Season 3 winner of “American Idol.” Fantasia was raised in High Point, and today she calls Charlotte home. She can’t leave North Carolina, the singer says – not without losing a piece of herself – and home state shows are accordingly special, even if she gets a little nervous beforehand.
“I could go to L.A., I could play New York, I could go out of the country, but when I come home, I always get nervous,” says Fantasia. “I always say it’s because it’s your hometown and it’s where you started, and it’s the people you want to make happy outside of anyone.”
Christmas at home
Christmas is particularly meaningful to Fantasia because it was her late grandmother Addie Collins’s birthday. When Christmas came around, Fantasia recalls, Collins would completely put herself aside and give, give, give.
“I remember one time my grandmother invited some strangers in our house. I was like, ‘Grandma, you cannot do that,'” Fantasia recalls. “But my grandmother, she had the strongest faith and she just loved people. They turned out to be amazing people.”
Collins, who died in 2015, exuded selfless love, peace and joy, Fantasia says, and she was completely in her element when Christmas came. She put up the best tree and filled the house with Christmas music like “Silent Night” by the Temptations, “Give Love on Christmas Day” by the Jackson 5 and Mariah Carey’s “Merry Christmas” album. These are special memories for Fantasia, and she has vowed to carry on her grandmother’s traditions.
When it came time to make her own Christmas album, Fantasia and producer Ron Fair decided to go back in time. The live show is styled after a Broadway performance. It’s supposed to be something special, she says, especially for local fans. She envisions audience members in trench coats and suits, in fur coats and heels, and really getting into the spirit.
“A lot of times in North Carolina, we’ve never been to a Broadway show,” Fantasia says. “‘The Color Purple,’ I’ve played in it, and it was my first time ever seeing a Broadway show.”
Sonically, the idea was for “Christmas After Midnight” to have a 1960s big band jazz sound. It made her a little apprehensive at first, especially in terms of younger listeners getting where she was coming from, but she eventually decided to apply a lesson she’s learned as a parent to her musical career.
“I have a son that will be six December 13, his name’s Dallas. And Dallas is a very picky eater,” Fantasia explains. “You put food down in front of Dallas, it doesn’t smell a certain way, (and he says), ‘Ugh. I don’t like it, Mommy. Take it away.’ I realize that if I take it back and I season it up real good and I present it very well, he will sometimes eat it. Again, people want what’s good.”
The spirit of collaboration
If Fantasia was going to step outside of the box and make a jazz record, she says, she needed people who would step outside the box with her.
“Some people never do that,” she says. “They would never do that because they’re afraid, they’re worried about what other people will say about them.”
So she asked CeeLo Green, the bombastic hit-maker whose long career includes solo albums and work with Goodie Mob and Gnarls Barkley, to sing on her version of “Baby, it’s Cold Outside.” Fantasia loves that CeeLo can do anything: he can sing, he can rap, he’s a poet, and he’s an inspiring presence, she says.
“I could pick no one better to get on a jazz album, when we’re going back to the 1960s and we’re doing songs from Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday and Ray Charles and James Brown,” Fantasia says.
Fair, the producer, who has worked with Christina Aguilera and the Black Eyed Peas, was an essential collaborator, too. The two had bonded over jazz and the blues while working on her 2016 album “The Definition Of…” When she decided to work with him for “Christmas After Midnight,” it was Fair who said it has to be jazz.
Fantasia acknowledges she paused before getting on board with the idea, but eventually she and Fair were bouncing songs off each other.
“I remember the first time he sent me Frank Sinatra. I said, ‘Ron. You gotta be out of your mind,'” Fantasia says. She came around, though. “Then I sent him James Brown’s, ‘Santa Claus go Straight to the Ghetto.’ And he’s like, ‘I’ve never heard this before!’
“I feel like that’s what made it so magical.”
Fantasia with guest Demetria McKinney
When: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 6
Where: Durham Performing Arts Center, 123 Vivian St., Durham
Cost: Tickets start at $40
Info: dpacnc.com; 919-680-2787