Fantasia Barrino Won “American Idol ”20 Years Ago Today: Look Back on the Epic Moment

'The Color Purple' star was then the youngest singer ever to win the musical competition series

<p>Frank Micelotta/Getty</p> Fantasia Barrino on

Frank Micelotta/Getty

Fantasia Barrino on 'American Idol' in 2004

It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years since Fantasia Barrino won American Idol, launching a career that has seen her win a Grammy, multiple Billboard Music Awards and a slew of other honors.

Last week, she marked the momentous anniversary with an appearance on the season finale of Idol, delivering an inspiring message for finalists Jack Blocker, Will Moseley and Abi Carter, who ultimately won.

“All I can say is, I never gave up,” Barrino, now 39, told the trio of singers.

And she never has. Back in 2004, Barrino was a 19-year-old single mother living in North Carolina — “Just a little girl from High Point, North Carolina that liked to sing,” as The Color Purple star reflected late last year. “She didn't know nothing about the industry. She didn't know anything about, ‘Maybe you should look this way, dress this way, talk this way, smile for the cameras a certain way.’ ”

“While I was singing for everybody else, I was actually singing my way through and to some things,” she added.

<p>Frank Micelotta/Getty</p> Fantasia Barrino on 'American Idol' in 2004

Frank Micelotta/Getty

Fantasia Barrino on 'American Idol' in 2004

Related: American Idol Winners: Who Won Each Season and Where Are They Now?

Her heartfelt performances of Bonnie Raitt’s “Something to Talk About” and Gloria Estefan’s “Get on Your Feet” on the third season of Idol paid off big time, propelling her all the way to the show’s top two.

On the May 26, 2004, live finale she faced off against Diana DeGarmo with performances of K-Ci & JoJo’s 1997 hit “All My Life” and a show-stopping rendition of “Summertime” from George Gershwin’s 1935 opera Porgy and Bess.

During the broadcast, host Ryan Seacrest told viewers that a record 65 million fans had cast votes, more than had ever voted in the show’s history up to that point. And Barrino secured the victory, receiving a reported 1.3 million more votes than DeGarmo, making her the youngest contestant ever to win Idol to that point as well.

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“Thank you so much – I broke my shoe,” a tearful Barrino said when her victory was announced. “You know what, I’ve been through some things, but I’ve worked hard to get where I’m at. Thank you all so much, man.”

She closed out the show with her new song “I Believe,” but her fabulous career was just getting started. The single debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart and her first album, Free Yourself, eventually went platinum.

Related: 'American Idol' Judges Through the Years in Honor of the Show's 20th Anniversary

<p>Frank Micelotta/Getty</p> Fantasia Barrino on 'American Idol' in 2004

Frank Micelotta/Getty

Fantasia Barrino on 'American Idol' in 2004

In the years since, Barrino has released six more albums, and withstood some personal trials, only to emerge more resilient than ever with her triumphant starring role in last year’s big screen adaptation of Broadway musical The Color Purple. Her performance earned her an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture, as well as Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations.

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In April, the same month she was named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People of 2024, Barrino launched her Rock Soul Productions, an entertainment company she described as “the manifestation of my evolution as an artist, a creative and a businesswoman.”

“After 20 years, you can’t help but to take stock and look back at all the things you have done, and I wanted to use those experiences to inform my opportunities going forward,” she told Deadline.  “Advocating for myself and other artists to become the change agents in telling their own stories and taking the reins in shaping their own narrative and success is what I’m passionate about.”

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