The singer released her seventh studio album, Sketchbook, on Friday and will soon set out on her first headlining tour
With a brand new album out, a tour on the way and a happy family life at home, Fantasia Barrino is well aware of how far she’s come since her American Idol win in 2004 — and, she admits, she’s feeling “pretty damn good” about it.
The singer dropped her seventh studio album, Sketchbook, on Friday, the same day she also premiered the sultry, workout-focused music video for her song, “Bad Girl,” exclusively on PEOPLE.
“Bad Girl” is just one of the 12 songs off of Sketchbook, an album which Barrino describes as a mix of “all genres of music.”
“Everything is different,” Barrino, 35, tells PEOPLE. “I came from a musical family and a lot of people don’t know that my first cousins are K-Ci and JoJo from Jodeci. They introduced us to great music at a young age. Then I went off to do Idol, we were allowed to do all genres. I was so here for it because that’s how I grew up. So my new thing is being independent and not having anybody standing in the way telling me what I can and cannot do.”
“‘PTSD’ sounds nothing like ‘Enough,’ ‘Enough’ sounds nothing like ‘Holy Ghost,’ ‘Holy Ghost’ sounds nothing like ‘Take Off,'” she continues. “It’s just a feel good album of all genres with a bop to it, something people have never heard Fantasia do. I don’t want people to stick me in a box.”
Sketchbook is Barrino’s first album to be released independently, a process which she says allowed her more creative freedom than when she was signed to a record label.
“I was at a point to where I was like, ‘If I can’t do what I want to do, then I quit,'” she says. “I walked away from the label with all good relationships on good terms. And now we’re doing what it is we always really wanted to do.”
Throughout the ups and downs and downs in both her career and personal life over the last several years, Barrino says her biggest lesson was learned from “not taking full control of my destiny and putting it in everybody else’s hands.”
“I lost a lot that way,” she says. “I was the only one going out there working so hard — there would be times where my feet would be sore with blisters and my voice would be tired and I hadn’t seen my kids and I would get home to realize that everybody that was running the ship had been taking little pieces here and there away from it. And it wasn’t floating anymore. So I had to take full control of the ship. Now I’m cruising and now I know what I want.”
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Barrino will soon kick off her first headlining tour in support of the new album with a performance in Columbia, South Carolina on Oct. 17. She’ll be joined by supporting acts Robin Thicke, Tank and The Bonfyre on the tour, which will run through December.
“Know that I put together just about everything [for the tour],” she says. “A lot of people don’t know that I sketch, and I design the outfits for myself and my girls. They don’t know that I put together the lights, the band, what the girls sing. It’s fun to see it all come together.”
Barrino will also be joined by her husband, Kendall Taylor, for many of the dates on the tour.
“My husband always comes out because me and my husband, we work together,” she says. “But, at the same time, we’re running three different businesses. So he probably won’t be able to be there all the time, but he comes out and makes sure everything is running smoothly, makes sure I still got that big Kool-Aid smile on my face.”
“When God put us both together, we knew that we both were on a mission and the mission was bigger than just singing,” she continues. “He goes and he speaks to the men in the prisons. His ministry is just to be a blessing to people by showing them that we have a past. We have history, but look what we did with it. Look where we took it. We didn’t let that stop us.”
The couple have been married since 2015 and wed just three weeks after first meeting one another. At the time they met, Barrino says she was working on the Broadway show, After Midnight, and focusing on herself.
“I went through this whole process of finally stopping, pausing and learning who Fantasia was,” she says. “I won Idol at 19 and from 19 it was like, go go go. But I ended up not even knowing who I was anymore. I didn’t even know what I wanted.”
Barrino says she went on to buy herself a “beautiful ring” and wore it on her engagement ring finger.
“I was like, ‘Whoever puts the next ring on it needs to top this one,'” she says. “Some people may think it’s corny, but for me it worked. I spent that seven or eight months just sitting back and learning how to love Fantasia and also letting go of so much of the past because in order to for someone new to come in, you got to let go of all the stuff you’ve been carrying or you’ll just run them away. So every day, I would put up on index cards what I was looking for and what I wanted. Everything I had on my wall, Kendall was that. He was a praying man, he was a smart man, he was a man with a story, he was a man with a past, he was going somewhere, I saw the king in him and he saw the queen in me.”
Barrino recently sparked some debate for comments she made during an interview with The Breakfast Club — and a follow-up video on Instagram — in which she talked about how she and Taylor subscribe to the “science of submission” in their relationship, something she says a lot of people misconstrued.
“People automatically think it’s someone telling you what to do — that’s not what it is,” she says. “When we got married, we both submitted to each other. And what we mean by that is if he needs me, I’m there. When we became one, I became the neck and he became the head. I look for my husband to protect my family, I look for my husband to make sure this family is okay, that we have a roof over our heads, food on our table and clothes. And I look for him to be the leader and guide us. As the woman, I am standing right beside him — not behind him.”
“It’s not him telling me what to do,” she adds. “Because I’m not a woman that can really be told what to do. I’m a very strong woman. I have a dream, I have visions, and I’m going to get there. And what I’m saying is we both submit to each other; we both help each other get there. Submission is saying that I’m not going to let anything come before my marriage and my kids — not even this business. If the industry leaves me today and dropped me, I got that man and I got those children and that’s all there should be.”
After the interview aired, Barrino says that a lot of women “totally missed” what her message was.
“But those are the same women that are wanting a relationship and wanting to be in a relationship,” she says. “And so I think you just have to sit back and figure out what works for you. People dissect things the way they want to, and they take good things and they turn them into negative things. But that’s just the world we live in. I don’t let that kind of stuff bother me.”
Playing the character Celie in The Color Purple on Broadway from 2007-2008 taught Barrino how to handle scrutiny like that in the public eye.
“I took so much from her,” she says. “She was a very tough cookie, she was told she was ugly every day and to shut up, be quiet, sit in the corner. But toward the end of the show, Celie really turns out to be the one. So when it comes to the industry and gossip, my skin is so thick that I never lose any sleep by that kind of stuff.”
Along with her fans, Barrino says her 7-year-old son Dallas can’t wait to see her perform out on tour (she also has an 18-year-old daughter, Zion, from a previous relationship).
“My son’s ready to come to a show. He loves to see me perform,” she says, adding, “I make time for my kids. I don’t want my kids to ever grow up and say, ‘Mommy was dope and she had this music out, but she never spent any time with us.’ That is like the thing that I dread the most. I never want them to say that. I’ll fly home just to be at a program at school because I want my child to look out in that audience and see mommy.”
Despite their musical roots, Barrino says she doesn’t think either of her kids will end up following in her footsteps.
“I can tell because for me, it started when I was five years old,” she says. “My mom and dad could not shut me up. We would get in trouble for going to the bathroom, locking the door, taking a brush and singing for hours. The boys would be knocking like, ‘Get out of the bathroom!’ I don’t see that in any of my kids, and I’m okay with that.”
As to how it feels to be at the place she’s at in life right now, Barrino says it’s “pretty damn good.”
“I’ve been through a whole lot,” she says. “I’ve crawled my way here. The work that I’ve put in to get to this place, nobody can take it away from me. To still be standing in the game, 15 or 16 years later, finally going independent and having such a great big following, I’m so grateful.”
“It’s a new Fantasia,” she adds of this new phase. “People haven’t met this girl yet. They’re slowly beginning to meet the new woman that came with growth, that came with trail, that came with ups and downs. This woman is ready.”
Sketchbook is available now.