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At an age when most teens are looking forward to a carefree summer break, Jordin Sparks at 17, graced the stage as the youngest American Idol winner and spent the summer months crafting her eponymous debut album. Honing all the confidence, class and breathtaking range of emotion that put her at the epicenter of the entertainment world for most of 2007, Jordin is pouring everything into her upcoming album due out on 19 Recordings/Jive Records in November.
Jordin says the album also benefits from a summer-long vocal workout on the road during the 56 city Pop Tarts American Idol Live! Tour that just recently ended. “I learned so much being out there every night singing live,” she says. “How to grab hold of a song. To have and keep that control. I’ve always been a student of singing – listening to stuff on the radio and trying to figure out how a singer is ‘breathing,’ how they do harmonies. What was great about performing live every night is building the strength in my voice and seeing it resonate with the audience. I tried to bring that into my sessions for the album. Giving that kind of power to the material.”
Effortlessly navigating a dream-team of ‘A-list” writing/producing talent on her new album that includes The Underdogs (Dreamgirls soundtrack, Chris Brown, Mary J. Blige), Eman (Nick Lachey, Backstreet Boys, Celine Dion), Robbie Nevil (High School Musical soundtrack), and former Color Me Badd star-turned producer/writer Sam Watters (Jessica Simpson) – all of them adding color and dimension to her multitude of talents ala Jordin’s kickoff single, “Tattoo.” Written by Amanda Ghost, (who co-penned James Blunt’s breakthrough classic “You’re Beautiful,”) and produced by the Norwegian street-tinged duo Stargate, (Beyonce, Ne-Yo, Rhianna), the single has buoyantly reacquainted music fans with Jordin’s remarkable vocal presence.
But it’s her ability to completely wrap herself around a song, as she does on her new ballad “Permanent Monday,” (produced by Eman and written by Lindy Robbins) that raises the bar on her new album, revealing a depth and knack for storytelling that sculpts a landscape worthy of the singer’s entire repertoire of emotions. “When I listen to a demo I like to know how it was done. I try to imagine what I can bring to it,” she says. “Put my spin to it. All my favorite artists, whether contemporary or classic – all had a way of making that certain song their own. I don’t know If I had a plan for this album so much as I had a method. To give myself to each session, each song – every note. I think in the end that’s how you create the full spectrum for your fans. I have rock cuts, edgey stuff, and of course ballads like ‘Permanent Monday’ which I love to do.”
Born in Phoenix, AZ, (she resides in Glendale) she admits that the high-intensity environment of her father’s occupation (her dad, Phillippi Sparks, was a professional football player for the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys) may have schooled her in how to cope with the rigors of show business early on. “My family was always very loving, very grounded. My dad kept us calm no matter what was happening with his career, and my mom made me fiercely independent. She was big on teaching us responsibility and fending for ourselves. I think I understood early the importance of setting goals and being prepared to meet them.” Growing up in a bi-racial household also taught Jordin another valuable lesson. “Amazingly, I never felt singled-out. Even at school, we were always treated with respect, never out of the ordinary, which when I look back, is really an incredible thing. I try to be that accepting whenever I encounter a new or difficult situation.”
Perhaps her most revealing life-lesson is the tale about how Jordin nearly missed out on being an Idol contestant altogether. No stranger to musical competitions, it’s the way she handled the potentially biggest disappointment of her life – being sent home on her first Idol try - that reveals a strength of character truly rare in a just-turned-17 year old. “I remember being at that first audition looking down that long line that just seemed endless and asking myself: ‘What am I bringing to this – how will they ever notice me’ she says.’ They didn’t, with the young singer being dismissed after her first L.A. audition. “I went home, shook it off and said ‘wait a minute, I can do this if they let me.’”
Where most teenagers might have buried such a disappointment in a countless array of distractions – Jordin made a bee-line for a second audition held in her native Arizona. She won, earning her another shot in front of Idol royalty at a Seattle audition where she sang Celine Dion’s “Because You Love Me.” The rest – as they, say is – well… “Giving up is not part of my vocabulary,” she says proudly. “Sure, I get down, but I’ve learned to let the negative roll off my back. You have to if you want to keep on going in this world.”
When asked if there is anything truly surprising her fans might want to know about her – she laughs: ‘The fact that I like post-hardcore bands – ‘Screamo’ bands like Silverstein (from Burlington, Ontario) and others.” Jordin is quick to add she’s also a sucker for ‘80’s music. “I’m full of surprises,” she smiles. “I’ve found out the best thing about making your first album is how much you continue to surprise even yourself.”
“Overnight success” is overwhelming to anyone at any age’ but Jordin Sparks is taking it all in stride and shining brightly with every step. Her biggest challenge may be her upcoming album, but if you take into account her steady foundation, awe-inspiring talents and unlimited enthusiasm, her biggest challenge may just prove to be her greatest success.