Since winning American Idol back in 2007, Jordin Sparks has turned herself into one of the show’s most notable winners. She’s a Grammy-nominated singer with several Top 10 hits, including “Battlefield” and “No Air.” Now she’s days away from the premiere of her debut film, Sparkle, a remake of the 70s cult classic.
Sparks’ decision to get into professional acting came as her record label, Jive Records, merged into RCA Records last year, leaving her unsure of what she should do with her career.
“I was just in this state of limbo, not knowing what was going to happen,” says Sparks. Things were transitioning with my label. I was ready to do a record, and make music, and there weren’t people there who could help me. I’d just parted ways with my management. So I was just sitting there going, ‘Is this really…is this it? Is this all that’s happening right now? I don’t know what’s going on. But I know something’s coming.’
“And Sparkle fell into my lap. It was the perfect opportunity, because it gave me a chance to do something new and get into acting, as well as get out music and have my voice be on it for my fans.”
Making a film debut is big in any case, but with Sparkle, Sparks finds herself at the center of the film as its titular star. She admits to worrying about being horrible, but credits her fellow cast members with helping her find her way on-set.
“I was just like this sponge, soaking up everything. I was just watching everything and it really helped, because they all gave so much, which in turn helped me give more.”
With a film in the musical genre, though, Sparks did have an advantage over most of her fellow cast mates when it came to musical performances.
“Since there was music involved, that was where I was in my comfort zone. If they needed anything, I was helping with the musical performances, the choreography, in the studio. We all got really close, and it translated to the screen.”
Among Sparks’ co-stars in Sparkle is Whitney Houston, in her final screen role. For Sparks, who considers Houston one of her main musical influences, working with Houston provided many memorable moments. There was one moment in particular that still stands out to her.
“There was one scene…I can’t even remember what it was, but I was kind of hesitant, and she said, ‘Believe in your gift. Believe in the talent that you have.’ You hear that, and you get reminded of it. But to have someone that you’ve idolized, that you’ve looked up to and loved say that to you, it has just stuck with me, and I will never forget that.”
That closeness amongst the cast made news of Houston’s passing in February particularly hard. On the day of Houston’s passing, Sparks was scheduled to walk with her on the red carpet of Clive Davis’ annual Grammy party.
“I was actually getting ready. It was going be our first round of Sparkle press, me and her together. My publicist came to the door, and she said, ‘Whitney’s gone.’ I went, ‘What do you mean? Like, she doesn’t want to do the carpet?’ She said, ‘No, she passed.’ And I pretty much lost all thought, feeling, movement, just…everything.
“I don’t think I’ve cried that hard ever. I remember my publicist was sitting in there with me, and she’s got, like, a million different phones, and each one was just going off with press requests. ‘Can we get Jordin to talk?’ ‘Can we get her for a live interview?’ I just couldn’t handle it. I was already so overwhelmed by the news that happened. That was a million times worse.”
“It was really hard for all of us. It was so unexpected and the last time we had all seen her was in Detroit, when we were filming the movie, and we were all just so happy and so excited and she was just this ray of light. Then the next time we all saw each other was at the funeral, and it was just this surreal, weird moment, like we’re not all here for this. Because we were just laughing at the table, cracking up. It was very…that’s the only way I can describe it. Shell-shocked is the word.”
With promotion for Sparkle underway, Sparks is now looking forward to further acting projects. First among them is a role she’s working on now in The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete, an indie film also starring Jennifer Hudson and executive produced by Alicia Keys. In it, she plays “an Afro-Latina from the Bronx” (convincing Bronx accent and all).
She’s also hard at work on the follow-up to her 2009 album Battlefield. With her new album, Sparks is taking advantage of the R&B sounds of the Sparkle soundtrack to branch out into new sounds for her solo career.
“I grew up on Mariah, Whitney, Celine Dion, and Christina Aguilera,” says Sparks. “My flavor and sound now that I want to do is early Mariah, early Whitney. And it won’t be weird [now], which it could have been last year if I had just put out a new sound. It would’ve been like, ‘That’s not Jordin at all.’ But now, when my fans see the movie, it opens the door for it to be like, ‘Oh, I can see that move.’”
Included in her fan base is a sizable gay following. Sparks is not only aware of her gay fans, but very appreciative of their support.
“I didn’t know that I had a gay fan base, or as big a gay fan base as I have, until I started touring on my own right after Idol,” says Sparks. “It was so cool to see that I was touching so many different people, and it was so much fun, and they’re so sweet and just…supportive and loyal. It’s just the best thing ever.”
With a career that’s now expanding more quickly than ever, Sparks is looking for time to do everything she wants. She’s more than determined to succeed, though.
“I want to conquer. I want to be known as a really, really good singer, and a really, really good actress. No slash, just both.”
Additional reporting by Joseph Brownell.