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The Fantasia controversy is laid to rest

by Jordan Green

The brother of Fantasia Barrino, the singer from High Point who rocketed from obscurity when she won the televised ‘“American Idol’” talent contest in 2004, has taken responsibility for arranging an appearance by the star at the Sky Bar in downtown Greensboro that never happened.

Fantasia Barrino celebrated her 21st birthday at the Empire Room on June 29 after a performance at War Memorial Stadium as lines of people waited to get into the club, and others waited a couple doors down the street at the Sky Bar, expecting her to end the night with them.

When she didn’t show and reports of her absence circulated, loyal fans from across the nation inundated internet message boards speculating about whether the Sky Bar’s owner or the event’s promoters latched onto Barrino’s stardom to exploit her popularity without bothering to get a commitment from the singer.

An e-mailed message to YES! Weekly from Janice Brown of Atlanta summed up the feelings of many fans who spiritedly defend Fantasia Barrino as an artist of personal integrity and accessibility. ‘“I have met her four times and one thing [is] for sure,’” Janice wrote, ‘“she is a woman of her word and she will go beyond the call of duty for her fans.’”

The singer’s brother, Ricco ‘— a Greensboro independent promoter who performs in the music group Infinity ‘— said he set up the Sky Bar appearance at the prompting of the singer’s record company, which wanted the additional revenue from a second venue’s door-take to help underwrite the birthday party.

‘“They felt like to accommodate for it, they would go to the Sky Bar too,’” he said of the record label. ‘“I don’t know who made that call. It was brought to me and I agreed. I put the signature on it. There was an agreement that we would end up at the Sky Bar.’”

Also promoting the Sky Bar appearance was Waleed Coyote, a popular Greensboro hip-hop DJ on 102 JAMZ. The FM radio station is owned by Entercom Communications. Coyote said he was supposed to be the ‘“hype man’” and emcee for the Sky Bar appearance. During the promotional phase, he described himself as Ricco Barrino’s ‘“liaison;’” Barrino in turn called Coyote the event’s ‘“front man.’” Despite both men’s insistence that they promoted the appearance independent of the radio station, 102 JAMZ’s name and logo ended up on stacks of glossy fliers that were distributed to publicize the event.

On the basis of a verbal agreement from Ricco Barrino and Coyote, Sky Bar owner Lee Moore said he agreed to host Part II of the singer’s birthday party.

‘“I didn’t have anything in writing from them; it was done all over the phone,’” Moore said. ‘“It went as far as negotiating the rate that we charged at the door. We were charging seven dollars and then we were going to go up to ten. They called me at nine-thirty that night having a fit saying we should start charging fifteen or twenty dollars. We were supposed to cover our expenses and give a percentage of the rest to them.’”

He added that a DJ hired by Coyote showed up at the Sky Bar and tried to set up his equipment, indicating that plans for the second appearance by the singer were not abandoned until later. Moore said he turned the DJ away because he’d already hired someone to spin records. Coyote said the DJ was a friend.

Ricco Barrino acknowledged that he distributed stacks of postcard-sized glossy fliers reading, ‘“You are cordially invited to the afterparty for Fantasia Barrino,’” which listed the Sky Bar as the location and indicated that doors would open at 10 p.m. The fliers incorporated the logos of 102 JAMZ, the Sky Bar and Channel Red Design Group. Moore said in an e-mail to YES! Weekly that the Sky Bar event was also publicized on 102 JAMZ over the preceding weekend.

The corporate head in charge of Entercom’s six Greensboro stations said 102 JAMZ had no involvement in Fantasia Barrino’s appearance at the Sky Bar. He categorically denied that the station broadcasted promotional spots or authorized the use of its name and logo on the fliers.

‘“The Sky Bar didn’t spend a cent with us; it was not our event,’” said Entercom Greensboro’s vice president and general manager, Brent Millar. ‘“There was no schedule purchased. If you’re a club owner you need to promote your event. If [Moore] wanted us to talk about it he would have to pay us for it one way or another.’”

On the matter of 102 JAMZ’s logo appearing on the flier for the Sky Bar event, the radio man was equally adamant.

‘“That was illegal of them to use our logo,’” he said. ‘“If I wanted to I could actually sue whoever put that flier out. It’s a good thing I didn’t see it. No one was given permission to put our name on it.’”

Millar said events such as the Sky Bar appearance are generally the domain of independent promoters rather than corporate radio.

‘“They all cut their side deals,’” he said. ‘“For instance, we had a lot of great artists at SuperJams [the station’s live hip hop extravaganza held at the Greensboro Coliseum last month]. A lot of times the after-parties are done with individual promoters.’”

Moore, the club owner, promoted the Sky Bar appearance himself in a June 23 e-mail sent to multiple recipients promising: ‘“Wed. night Sky Bar will be open full force’… Fantasia will celebrate her 21st Bday at Sky Bar.’” One of the e-mail’s recipients was YES! Weekly graphic designer Lisa Ellisor, and the information was incorporated into a full-page advertisement in the newspaper.

About 50 people waited at the Sky Bar for Fantasia Barrino on her birthday night. Yet the publicity for the Sky Bar event apparently paled in comparison to the flurry of communication on message boards for the Empire Room appearance, to which several fans said in e-mail messages they learned hundreds of free passes could be obtained from 102 JAMZ .

By all accounts, the Empire Room party was well attended. Lines of people waited to get into the Empire Room long after Barrino was expected at the Sky Bar. The high number of fans inside and outside the Empire Room ultimately prompted the singer’s management to veto plans to move the party down the street because of security concerns, her brother said.

‘“You got a lot of screaming fans, and a lot of people couldn’t get in,’” Ricco Barrino said. ‘“They were still trying to get in at the two o’clock hour. It was jam-packed. It put the artist in a position where it would hurt the artist.

‘“She had a great birthday,’” he added. ‘“Everybody couldn’t get in, and that’s too bad, but that’s the way it goes with a party of this class.’”

Ricco Barrino, Waleed Coyote and Lee Moore all expressed a desire to put the ill-fated Sky Bar party behind them, and the three said they’ve talked about the possibility of working together again in the future. And Coyote said the episode caused no negative fallout for him with his employers at 102 JAMZ.

‘“We didn’t lose money,’” Moore said. ‘“It was embarrassing. It was very stressful.’”

Barrino pleaded for goodwill and understanding.

‘“We gotta learn to let yesterday be yesterday and tomorrow be tomorrow,’” he said, ‘“and keep everything positive.’”

Lauren Cartwright contributed reporting for this story. To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at jordan@yesweekly.com.

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