Idol’ Winner Battles Illiteracy


A southern songstress wins in a contest to find America‘s top pop star and goes on to superstardom, living happily ever after. That’s what happens on TV.

As American Idol winner Fantasia Barrino reveals in her new memoir, "Life is Not a Fairy Tale," in real life she is not only a multiplatinum artist with wealth to boot; she is also a single mother who can neither read nor write.

So how did an illiterate young woman win the “Idol” competition in 2004? How did she sing songs she didn’t know? How did she fool Paula and the crew?

In “Life is Not a Fairy Tale,” which the 21-year-old R&B singer dictated to a freelance writer, Barrino says she would repeatedly listen to the songs she had to perform on the show. When she made mistakes in rehearsing she would just fudge it.

"Somebody would say, ‘You know, it’s pronounced this way’,” Barrino told ABC News’ "20/20" on Friday. "And I’d be like, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, I’m country, you know.” Barrino also revealed she has signed contracts she could not read.

The daughter of a mother who also is illiterate, Fantasia dropped out of the ninth grade after she was raped in school by a boy she had a crush on, she says in "Tale," which was released Sept. 30. Meantime, she became an unwed mother at 17, afraid to apply for a job, trapped in a world where even small words could just as soon have been a blur.

“You’re illiterate to just about everything," Barrino, who grew up poor in North Carolina, told "20/20." "You don’t want to misspell, so that, for me, kept me – in a box and I didn’t, wouldn’t come out. I was so ashamed and I was like, ‘What will people say about me?’ I can’t get a job."

But Barrino, who says it "hurts really bad" that she can’t read to her four-year-old daughter Zion, says she is now working with a tutors to learn to read and write.

When her daughter Zion, 4, asks her to read, Barrino said she no longer wants to have to say “not right now.”