After exploring her sensitive side on Broadway in The Color Purple, the American Idol champion returns to tough-talking R&B on her third ? studio disc. ”If you gon’ be the man, then be the man,” she growls on the Ne-Yo-produced ”Man of the House,” and Back to Me rarely gets bubblier than that. Fantasia’s rough-hewn vocals shine best on ”The Thrill Is Gone,” which features a similarly raspy ?Cee-Lo Green.
The title of Fantasia’s third album Back to Me surely refers to the American Idol winner reconnecting with her roots -- a move that may be a little premature because she hasn’t abandoned them during her four-year hiatus from recording, she simply shifted her attention from the studio to the stage, taking the time to star in the musical adaptation of The Color Purple and even dabble in reality television. It was enough activity to keep her in the public eye, but not enough to elevate her profile toward superstardom, so perhaps she needed to treat Back to Me as a full-fledged comeback, if only to give her a boost toward the upper reaches of the charts. And even with a sleek throwback like “Collard Greens & Cornbread” and titles borrowed from the Jackson 5 (“Who’s Lovin’ You”) and B.
One of the common knocks against American Idol is that it caters to mass-market tastes in pop music, pushing bland, unexceptional talents into a market already overrun with interchangeable performers. Season-three winner Fantasia is something of an exception to that rule. Since her victory, Fantasia has been promoted almost exclusively to the R&B market, where the same ragged, frayed-nerve vocal style that made her such a divisive American Idol contestant has drawn justifiable comparisons to such timeless singers as Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, and Gladys Knight.