LOS ANGELES – It took a lifetime for music greats Ray Charles and Johnny Cash to earn screen biographies. In today's increasingly rapid celebrity cycle, one "American Idol" had a much briefer wait.
"The Fantasia Barrino Story: Life is Not a Fairy Tale," with Barrino making her acting debut playing herself, airs this weekend on the Lifetime TV channel, two years after the then-19-year-old won Fox's hit singing contest.
But Barrino and those behind the movie say the project is more than warranted despite her youth and a career that has just begun to unfold.
What's happened so far — the instant fame, Grammy nominations, a best-selling record and autobiography — has been hard-won and required Barrino to overcome adversity and crushing self-doubt, they feel.
"I think it's a story that warrants a biopic because it's got a really strong beginning, middle and end," said Susanne Daniels, Lifetime entertainment president. "Sometimes you have to wait until you've got the right ending. But you've got the right ending — she wins."
Her life holds lessons she wants to share with young viewers and adults, said Barrino, now 22. The movie, based on her book "Life is Not a Fairy Tale,' tells of a shattering rape and the despair of being a marginally educated, unwed teenage mom.
Empowering boys and girls who have been sexually abused is foremost, she said.
"You're supposed to be respected, and `no' means `no.' ... If somebody does you that way, don't be afraid to come out and tell somebody. At the end of the day, it's your mind and your spirit and your body."
Barrino's experiences, as well as her "extraordinary" gifts as a singer, drew film, TV and Broadway veteran Debbie Allen to the project as director.
"It's an amazing, uplifting story. It's an American dream. It's the kind of story that will inspire so many young people," Allen said. At her Los Angeles-area dance academy, she said, she regularly works with youngsters "who need to be inspired or who need confirmation for their dreams, or guidance."
The film, the first TV script from Pulitzer Prize-nominated playwright Keith Glover ("In Walks Ed"), co-stars Loretta Devine, Viola Davis and Kadeem Hardison. It airs 9 p.m. Saturday, repeating at 8 p.m. Sunday and 9 p.m. Monday (all times EDT).
Lifetime gained the use of clips from "American Idol," showing Barrino's 2004 victory and her powerful performance of the classic tune "Summertime," which she believes brought the audience into her camp.
There are dramatic liberties. A scene that suggests she was pressured to quit "American Idol" because she had a daughter outside marriage (Zion, now 5), is an interpretation of how she felt, Barrino said.
"It didn't go down like that," she said. The show's producers, whom she said "cared about me and believed in me," wanted her to know that the Internet was abuzz with negative postings and suggested she consider being less candid.
"I thought about that after they told me. I said, `They might be right. Do I want to lie now because I want it so bad, or is this an opportunity to say, yes, I've done that but look at what I'm trying to do now.'"
Screenwriter Glover said the challenge he faced was not inflating the drama but paring down an eventful life.
"I had an abundance of material. It wasn't having to make so much of whole cloth. The movie just jumped out at me from her book," he said.
Acting out the sexual assault by a classmate was the toughest part of filming, Barrino said. (She does not identify the youth in her book, in which she says she didn't pursue criminal charges because of harassment by his friends. A fictional name is used in the film.)
"I walked off the set several times. I said, `I can't play that,'" she recalled. It was Allen who carried her through the experience by bringing her son, Norm Nixon Jr., in to play Barrino's assailant.
The kind and easygoing Nixon "was a breath of fresh air," said Barrino.
Allen also provided the kind of supportive advice that "would calm my nerves and calm me down," Barrino said. "I took all her advice and I ran with it. ... And I would say, `I can do this because I'm doing it for a reason, to offer testimony.'"
Barrino at first rejected the idea of playing herself; she saw Kimberly Elise ("Close to Home") in the role. But Allen said the young singer from North Carolina "really has a future as an actress if she pursues it. She really can do this."
"American Idol" airs on FOX, which is owned by the parent company of FOXNews.com.