POINT PLEASANT, N.J. - Be careful who you trust. That's the advice from Antonella Barba, New Jersey's "American Idol" contestant, a day after being voted off the show following two weeks of turbulence over racy photos posted on the Internet.
"These were photos of my personal life that got exploited without my consent," she said during a conference call Friday with reporters from across the country. "I've learned to be careful who you trust."
Barba was the subject of rampant Internet gossip regarding the photos. Publicists for the top-rated Fox show cut off reporters' questions about the pictures during the conference call.
She did say, though, that the situation was distracting as she tried to prepare herself to sing during the past two weeks.
"It was difficult," she said. "It wasn't how I intended things to go. I tried to block it out as much as possible. I'm here to sing. All that other stuff was completely irrelevant."
She said she heeded advice from her vocal coach to view the nervousness in her stomach as adrenaline that could power her performance. And, right before she went onto the stage, she said a little prayer.
Barba, 20, attended Roman Catholic grammar school in neighboring Point Pleasant Beach, and went to a Catholic high school in nearby Red Bank before enrolling in Catholic University in Washington, D.C., where she studied architecture.
She withdrew earlier this year to focus on the "Idol" competition, and has no plans to go back anytime soon.
"Right now, I'm going to stay in L.A. for a week or two," she said. "I want to see what I can do with this for a career. I want to strike while the iron is hot."
Barba, who played the violin as a youth and gave lessons to neighborhood children, said she would consider acting or modeling, but still wants a career in music above all else.
She said she will reject any prurient career offers that come her way. Nor, she added, would she pose nude, or in partial clothing, for any reason.
"That is not the way I want to present myself," she said. "I keep getting told no publicity is bad publicity. Yes, it's true my name is more well-known because of it. But I'm not known for the things I want to be known for. I'd rather present myself in a more classy way."
Residents in Point Pleasant, a Jersey shore town of 18,000 about 60 miles north of Atlantic City, supported Barba when news of the photos threatened to overshadow her appearances on the show.
Signs sprouted around town wishing her well. By Friday morning, however, they were gone, replaced with messages advertising youth baseball sign-ups, and even the imminent arrival of spring.
But Mayor Martin Konkus said Point Pleasant plans to honor its newly famous resident. A mayoral proclamation is in the works, and Konkus plans to ask Barba to sing "God Bless America" at the Memorial Day parade. Barba said she'd be honored to do so.
"We are going to welcome her home with open arms," Konkus said. "She's not a bad person. She's a good person that probably wishes she had used a little more discretion. But what you saw was nothing you won't see on a Victoria's Secret television ad.
"She comes home a little bit older and a lot wiser," Konkus added.
Despite her turbulent time in the national spotlight, Barba has few regrets.
"I'm very thankful for the opportunity I've been given," she said. "All this embarrassment that has come with it, I still think it was worth it."