Back when “American Idol” was still a novelty on these shores (and before the switcheroo of judging panel which now includes Steven Tyler for some reason), Fantasia (aka Fantasia Barrino on her driver’s license) was easily one of the biggest sensations the show ever had. Her performances of “Summertime” and “Porgy & Bess” on the program drew raves, and at the age of nineteen, she became the youngest winner the show ever had at the time (17 year-old Jordin Sparks would later break that record). The success on the program vaulted her career leading to five Grammy nominations to date as well as starring role in the Broadway incarnation of “The Color Purple.” And now, Fantasia looks to be making another big career leap.
THR reports that the singer has signed on to play Mahalia Jackson in a forthcoming biopic based on the 1993 book “Got to Tell It: Mahalia Jackson, Queen of Gospel.” Jackson was one of the most iconic gospel singers of all time, earning the moniker “The Queen Of Gospel” and selling a dozen gold records throughout her career. She became the first gospel singer to perform at Carnegie Hall, was an early supporter of Martin Luther King Jr. and sang “How I Got Over” and “I’ve Been ‘Buked, and I’ve Been Scorned” at the March On Washington, and “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” at his funeral. In short, she was a legend, a larger-than-life figure and one of the finest singers — gospel or otherwise — in music history. She was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1997. To cinephiles, she’s probably best remembered as a church choir soloist in Douglas Sirk‘s wonderful 1959 melodrama, “Imitation Of Life,” who sings (and brings the house down) in the film’s emotional climax (you can see that scene below).
The film is set to be directed by Euzhan Palcy (“A Dry White Season“) and has a script by TV writer Jim Evering (“Major Dad,” “Mama’s Family“). Production is moving fast with lensing to start in April and a December release being eyed. While we’re not quite sold on the talent assembled here, Jackson’s story is certainly inspiring and undoubtedly Fantasia can easily nail the musical requirements of the role. As for the dramatic elements, we’ll have to wait and see.