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Gerald Herbert, Associated Press
John Michael Bradford, center, an eighth grade student at Haynes Academy School for Advanced Studies in Metairie, La., performs onstage with jazz trumpeter Jeremy Davenport, background, at the Louisiana Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans, Saturday, April 30, 2011.

NEW ORLEANS — Fantasia debuted Saturday at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and gave fans all she had and then some.

Wearing leopard-print shorts and red shoes, Fantasia strutted her stuff through a Cab Calloway-inspired introduction of "Hi-De-Ho" and "Free Yourself," but then briefly stopped the show, saying she couldn't '"feel" the fans behind a strategic set of barricades.

"I can't work with these gates," she said to the roar of the crowd. "It's like ya'll are in jail behind those gates."

After some cajoling and pleading with stagehands and police to no avail, the singer's bodyguards helped her off the stage for a trek through the crowd to a tent in the middle of the field where workers control the audio. There she sang "Man of the House" and "Collard Greens and Cornbread" to the delight of fans who don't always get up close and personal with artists at the fest.

Charlette White, of Kenner, La., said she was ecstatic Fantasia decided to leave the stage.

"You see this hand," she said pointing to her right hand, "it touched her. I love everything about her. She makes you feel like she's singing to you. She really gets into her shows and does whatever she has to, to make you feel it. Ya'll be sure to get her back — without the barricades."

"I wish she had ventured closer to me," said Meryold Walters, of New Orleans, who was celebrating her birthday. "I loved the show though, everything about her was great."

Not everyone was happy she ventured into the crowd. Some in the front lost their great view of her.

"Regardless of my disappointment of her walk into the crowd, her vocals are on point, her vocals are there," said Janella Newsome of New Orleans.

Midway in her show, Fantasia told the crowd they were at the point where they always "get loose."

"If your shoes hurt, take them off. If you're worried about sweating out that hair, you can get it done tomorrow," she said to loud applause and roars of approval.

She also covered Prince's "Kiss" and Bob Marley's "No Woman, No Cry" before belting into her own "Move on Me" and "Bittersweet" and a gutwrenching version of "Even Angels" that had tears streaming down her face.

Earlier, Fantasia said she hoped fans wouldn't be scared off by her high-energy, foot-stomping performance.

"I did (a jazz festival) in St. Lucia and I wasn't laid back," she said laughing, in an interview before the New Orleans show. "I was on fire. That's what New Orleans can expect too. I've come to bless you with my music."

Chloe Bickham, a freshman at Dillard University in New Orleans, said high energy is what she craves and the performance was all she hoped for and more.

"I think she did a great job," Bickham said. "She engaged the crowd and I'm definitely going to see her again at Essence. She was well worth the money."

Fantasia is scheduled to return to New Orleans in July for the Essence Music Festival. She was among the closing acts on the second day of the festival, which runs over the course of two weekends. Other closing acts included Bon Jovi, Jason Mraz, Robert Cray, jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal and gospel great Ted Winn.

"I always like to wow you, you know," she said in the early interview. "One thing they'll be able to say when I leave the stage is 'That lil heffa did her thang!'"

Fantasia said her latest project, "Back to Me," reflects her current musical sentiment reflected in her current single, "I'm Doin' Me."

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"I'm no longer trying to please everyone," she said. "I'm focused on Tasia and I think that will come through in the music in a good way."

She's working on another album but there's no release date set. "I'm not going to rush it," she said. "But let me say this, it's going to be a beast!"

She said singers like Tina Turner and Bonnie Raitt are her current inspirations — strong women whose lives reflect that.

"I've gone through so much in such a short time. I'm only 26," she said. "But I've found out that I'm a tough cookie. So that's my motivation right now."