During the first weeks of 2007, no other contestant on the sixth season of American Idol generated as much press as Antonella Barba. All that press wasn't about her singing -- she had a plain, pleasant voice -- but instead about her looks, in particular how those looks were captured in racy photographs shot prior to the brunette's time on American Idol. Born in Point Pleasant, NJ, Barba started singing in the sixth grade, appearing in her school's talent show, but she never received any vocal training. After her high-school graduation, she went to the Catholic University of America to study architecture and was still attending the school when she began her American Idol journey at the age of 20. Her time on the show started quietly, as she accompanied her friend Amanda Coluccio to the initial audition rounds in New York. Antonella received more praise than Coluccio, but both got through to Hollywood, where things got a little dicey as the Jersey BFFs teamed up with naïve blonde Baylie Brown -- a Carrie Underwood wannabe whom Simon Cowell called very commercial, to which she responded, "Is that a good thing?" -- and the Jersey duo survived the first round of cuts, but their Southern partner didn't. The friends' alliance was soon severed, as Coluccio was sent home in the next round and Antonella survived, making it all the way into the final 12 females.
Shortly after the show's semifinals started in February, Antonella soon dominated press coverage of the show as old photos of Barba started popping up on the Internet. At first, the snapshots were merely of questionable taste -- pictures of her drinking, pictures of her and a gaggle of girls topless on a beach, pictures of her on a toilet -- and then the truly controversial pics popped up: photos of her covered in rose petals à la Mena Suvari in American Beauty, photos of her provocatively posed in a basketball jersey, and -- most scandalously -- photos of her cavorting in a wet T-shirt at the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. Within days of these photos appearing on the Internet, Barba became a media sensation, both online and off. Antonella stories became a fixture on cable news shows, newspapers, and especially the Internet. During a late-February week when Anna Nicole Smith's death vied for tabloid headlines with Britney Spears' head-shaving meltdown, Antonella beat both blondes as the most-searched topic on the Internet -- startling proof of her sudden popularity.
Many observers speculated that the photos would be enough for the producers to kick Barba off the show, citing the example of Frenchie Davis in the second season. Davis had posed topless for an online site prior to auditioning for Idol, and those professional photographs were allegedly the reason why the producers dismissed Frenchie. Barba was not asked to leave because, unlike Davis, Antonella's racy photos were intended for private use. This caused outrage among some fans, who called the American Idol producers hypocrites for not holding Barba to the same standard as Davis, even resulting in a pro-Frenchie rally the third week of the semifinals, but all this outrage only succeeded in raising the profile of both the show and Antonella Barba. By the time of that rally, the notorious anti-Idol site Vote for the Worst shifted their endorsement from Sundance Head to Antonella Barba, a dubious honor, but such attention kept her on the show during the semifinals, even as her performances of Aerosmith's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" and Celine Dion's "Because You Loved Me" garnered no praise from the judges.