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FANTASIA MANIA HITS HIGH NOTE THOUSANDS OF DEVOTEES ATTEND 'IDOL' FAVORITE'S VISIT HOME

FANTASIA MANIA HITS HIGH NOTE THOUSANDS OF DEVOTEES ATTEND 'IDOL' FAVORITE'S VISIT HOME

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Her hometown fans wanted something to talk about, and Fantasia Barrino delivered.

The Triad's favorite daughter on Fox's "American Idol" television program swooped through North Carolina on Thursday; an afternoon performance at Providence Place's First Wesleyan Church capped a daylong visit.Barrino serenaded fans with "Something to Talk About," a cover of Bonnie Raitt's 1991 hit single. And Barrino gushed praise for the friends, family and "real people" of North Carolina whom she credits for success.

"I love y'all! Thank you all so much!" Barrino said. "We're almost there! We're almost there!"

More than 3,000 people showed up to see Barrino, High Point police estimated. Lt. Walter Heaviland said the crowd numbered twice that of the 1,700 available seats.

"For every one person we let in, there's easily another person outside," Heaviland said. "It's a nice little soiree."

Barrino's appearance came a day after placing among the bottom two vote-getters on the show. Contestants perform once each week on national television, and viewers have two hours afterward to cast votes for their favorites.

The person with the fewest votes leaves the show.

On Wednesday, that person was Oakland, Calif., native La Toya London. London and Barrino were long considered judges' picks for the final showdown between the remaining contestants.

Judges - acid-tongue music executive Simon Cowell, former pop star Paula Abdul and music producer Randy Jackson - critique performances but get no say in outcomes.

All three expressed shock that both "divas" fell short in the vote tallies. Barrino and London gave solid performances the night before, judges said, and did not deserve elimination.

"Honestly, I think Americans got this one wrong," Abdul said. Jackson called it a "travesty."

Fans outside Providence Place made similar observations while awaiting Barrino's arrival. And a few smelled conspiracy in Wednesday's show.

"You had the two best singers of the event in the bottom two," said High Point resident Joan McCorkle, who voted six times Tuesday night. "Fox needs to tell how many calls each contestant got, and they need to leave the lines open longer because not enough people could get through."

"There ain't no way La Toya or Fantasia should have been in the bottom two," said Prudence Holmes of Salisbury. "Ain't no way."

Other fans saw a silver lining.

"I was worried when it was down to her and La Toya," said Tim Crews of Browns Summit. "But now I think her best competition is out."

High Point officials presented Barrino on Thursday with a key to the city. And proclamations were read from the High Point City Council and Guilford County Board of Commissioners, both of which passed resolutions honoring their hometown star.

Barrino wept often at Thursday's show of support. "American Idol" producers plan to use footage of the event in segments during next week's programs.

Barrino goes head-to-head Tuesday night with Diana DeGarmo and Jasmine Trias, the other two contestants to survive this week's round. DeGarmo is from Atlanta. Trias hails from Hawaii.

Barrino's "going all the way, no doubt," said Oneeka Lockhart of High Point, who attended the event with her 4-year-old daughter, Miyah. "We've always believed in her, and we will continue to."

For the second time in the show's three-year history, North Carolina will be represented during the final round. Raleigh native Clay Aiken finished second last season . He later signed a recording contract with RCA.

"Thank you for supporting me, and don't stop. Get on the phone and vote 300 times!" Barrino told Thursday's audience. "I'm so excited. I can't stop shaking. I'm working hard to bring it home."

\ Contact Eric J.S. Townsend at 373-7008 or etownsend@news-record.com

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