There are two things most people remember about “American Idol” season-six contestant Antonella Barba.
Oh, grow up, not those.
Number one was the scandal over the racy pictures of the New Jersey singer that were leaked during her bid to make the top 12, which, for a minute, made Barba one of the most Googled celebrities on the Internet, beating such perennial search queens as Britney Spears and Anna Nicole Smith. Number two was that the media firestorm that followed actually punched a tiny hole in the steely, seemingly impenetrable heart of judge Simon Cowell, who told Barba that he felt bad for her when she was eliminated a little more a year ago during the last week of semifinals.
Unlike many other “Idol” contestants with a whiff of scandal (Where’d you go, Frenchie Davis ? What’s up, Corey Clark ?), instead of rushing to capitalize on her cyber-lebrity, Barba made the shockingly mature decision to put off her music career and go back to Catholic University in Washington, D.C., last fall to finish work on her architecture degree.
“It’s such a small school that sometimes someone will see me at a bar or something and want to take a picture with me, and then they’ll see me again the next night,” Barba said of the 6,000-student school where she began her architecture studies in 2004, before taking a break in the middle of her junior year to give fame a shot.
“I sometimes worry that I’m waiting too long [to start my singing career], and that’s what’s so hard about being patient and finishing school. But at the same time, I need time to finish my degree and have some time to myself, and everything last year was such a whirlwind. I had to regroup and have a game plan. To have jumped into something immediately … I would have been too frazzled.”
Not that she didn’t have some offers. One of which was for — shocker — a reality show for VH1 that she now admits was “pretty stupid” to turn down. “I’m an idiot,” she laughed, her cell phone reception going in and out as she raced back to school on a train, following the first professional gig of her latest nonmusical venture. Barba, 21, has signed up as a celebrity spokesperson for a technology company called Election Law, which recently sent her out to a Republican gathering in San Francisco to help recruit young voters for the upcoming presidential election. “They help candidates use technology in their campaigns, and I’m helping them gather voters,” she said.
Despite her busy life, Barba hasn’t given up on music. In addition to taking some voice lessons to fulfill a liberal-arts requirement at the university, Barba has been trying to write some lyrics to beats sent her way by rapper/producer Focus , a member of Dr. Dre’s Aftermath family.
“When I was in Los Angeles for the show, a week into the live performances, I was at dinner with my family, and [Focus’] brother [who helps manage him] came up to me and gave me his card, and it turned out to be a legitimate contact,” she said of the producer, who has worked with Dre, Eminem and ’NSYNC. “I’ve had to get some help from friends on the lyrics because I haven’t written songs before and it’s really hard!”
Focus said their collaboration is still in the “embryo” stage, but he’s eager to showcase Barba’s talent. “To be honest, I’m more interested in working with a raw talent like her, and I like her drive,” said Focus, who is also working on new tracks for the upcoming Eminem album and Dre’s long-awaited swan song, Detox. “We were only in town for a day and she made it a point to see us, and she’s been in constant communication, so it seems like she understands what she wants to do. She doesn’t want to be a cookie-cutter ’Idol’ thing. I like her edge. … She’s not on some superstar trip.”
The producer, who was born Bernard Edwards Jr. and is the son of late legendary Chic bassist Bernard Edwards, said he’s been sending Barba beats with a hard pop edge, promising that he’s not “going the Fergie route. It’s not your regular ’tronica sound. I want her to really sing.”
Barba said that though she’s eager to get some music out as soon as possible, she’s intent on finishing school in August and then beginning to shop for a record deal. And, a year after her life was turned upside down when someone leaked those nearly nude pictures online, Barba said the scandal still stings, but she’s learned to deal with it.
“When I was in San Francisco for that event with my boss, everyone was really supportive when he introduced me. But this one person said, ’Are you sure you want to associate your company with this girl?’ ” she said. “But it was just that one person. Yes, I’m still mad. If I could take back those pictures getting out, I still would. But at the same time — and people call me stupid for saying it — for good or bad, that’s what differentiated me. I don’t take pride in that differentiating me, but if there is a net positive from gaining notoriety from that, it’s that hopefully I’ll be able to pick up where I left off and have a better stepping-stone.”
And though she’s sad that her family — especially her parents — had to see the pictures, Barba said she’s trying to use everything that happens to her as a learning experience. Besides, she said, “I think I probably got the worst part out of the way already. What else could happen to me?”
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