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'American Idol' Star Fantasia Steals Show

Do you remember this moment? Simon Cowell , breathless on "American Idol" after Fantasia Barrino sang Gershwin's "Summertime," pronounced her and her performance the best ever on the show. Fantasia was just a scared 19-year-old who hoped to win the contest.

Last night, Fantasia now all of 20 was the special guest at legendary New York radio personality Hal Jackson's 65th anniversary dinner.

The black-tie gala at the Rainbow Room was a swell affair, with featured artists Ashford Simpson , Chuck Jackson , The Manhattans and Patti LaBelle . There was a proclamation from New York Gov. George Pataki and lots of media. There wasn't a single reporter or photographer from the mainstream press it was their loss.

Fantasia made her appearance right after the first three performers turned in spectacular sets in the Art Deco dining room. She slithered up to the stage in a lovely peach-colored gown.

It was instantly apparent that since "American Idol," Fantasia has matured and maybe even been tutored a little. She looked sensational and acted sensationally, singing an impromptu a cappella "Happy Birthday" to Hal.

You folks outside the New York area might not know this, but Hal is responsible for breaking more records and acts than any other DJ in New York history. Years ago I learned to drive listening to him on WBLS while he spun records.

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But the best was yet to come. Patti LaBelle arrived, looking like a very cool diva in a mink cape over a black cat suit. But she quickly explained that she had a cold, her nose had been bleeding and she was a mess.

"I agreed to be here and I couldn't stay away," she said.

However, knowing that she might not be in perfect voice, LaBelle invited Fantasia onstage to sing with her. And the rest is history.

Fantasia, now very polished but not slick, comes across as a young Aretha Franklin . She helped Patti through "If You Only Knew" and "Love You, Need You" without any rehearsal or lyric sheet. There was no lip-synching either. Just straight-ahead, gorgeous RB belting, crooning and scatting.

"She knows my music," Patti said as she mustered up the strength to temporarily overcome her illnesses and give Fantasia a run for her money.

"I'm 60 years old and I've been doing this for 40 years. How old are you?" Patti asked a shocked Fantasia when they finished a song to one of many standing ovations.

"Twenty," the girl replied.

Even LaBelle couldn't believe it. If last night was any indication, Fantasia is poised to be a superstar.

As for Patti, her patter including telling Hal from the stage "I'll sweat like a man for you" was glib, off-the-cuff and no doubt aided by the cold medicine she needed to make the show.

She said she couldn't sing, but really, she outdid herself. You can hear the whole thing this Sunday on Hal and Debi Jackson's show on WBLS.


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