Published 4:02 pm on January 23, 2009
Jordin Sparks Rises to Challenges of Music Industry
By Peter Elliott
This is a resume difficult to imagine for most people of any age:
• Perform for two U.S. Presidents
• Sing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl
• Win television’s highest-profile reality show
• Earn a Grammy nomination for your first album
The weighty list of accomplishments is reality for Jordin Sparks. At 19 years old, when many young women are contemplating their major or deciding whether or not to rush a sorority, Sparks is already firmly entrenched in the spotlight of stardom.
Sparks won "American Idol" in 2007. Since then her career has experienced a meteoric rise buoyed on the success of her self-titled debut album which was released last summer. The album Jordin Sparks produced a Top 10 hit in the single "Tattoo," but the biggest notoriety has come from the duet "No Air" performed with hip-hop artist Chris Brown.
"No Air" won Sparks and Brown the 2009 People's Choice Award for Favorite Combined Forces, beating out a release by veteran performers Madonna and Justin Timberlake. Even more significantly, Sparks will be present at the Feb. 8th Grammy Awards where "No Air" is up for Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals.
"It was great to win the (People's Choice) award because you think of how many people must be voting for you to win," Sparks said. "After 'American Idol', I thought I was done with that kind of voting, but it just shows how important it is for the people who support you. As for the Grammys, right now I can't even imagine what that would be like to win."
Sparks' enthusiasm and gratitude for her success are apparent when she speaks. It's a perspective nurtured by her family and through faith.
"I definitely recognize that I have a God-given talent," Sparks said. "I have a sense of inner peace, I know God gave me this wonderful voice and I feel that what He needs me to do is share it with others."
Sparks started sharing her musical talent shortly after learning to walk.
"I literally have been singing my whole life," Sparks said. "Over Christmas my grandma pulled out these old videos of me singing "Jingle Bells" when I was 2 and I knew all the words and was on key. It was crazy to see."
As comfortable as Sparks may have always been on stage, she also embraces the challenge of being a Christian in the fast-paced world of popular music. She sports a purity ring indicating her intention to remain abstinent until marriage.
"My faith has been a humungous part of how I have looked at my career," Sparks explained. "I started out singing in church very young and it took off from there. With my purity stance, I'm very careful about what I wear and the lyrics in my songs.
"The music business is a very secular world and there are always people quick to point to you as a hypocrite when you mess up with something and fall. I know that God has blessed me to be where I am and everything He has placed before me is just so amazing."
Sparks has benefited and learned from her father's fame. Phillipi Sparks was a defensive back for the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys.
"If my Dad hadn't been in the NFL, I don't know if I'd be able to handle things the way I do," Sparks said. "I watched how he did interviews and how he acted around fans and that helped mold how I react."
Take last weekend's NFC Championship game in Sparks' hometown of Glendale, Ariz. She performed the National Anthem in the same stadium where she sang the song before last year's Super Bowl. As exciting as it was for fans to see the hometown Arizona Cardinals advance to next Sunday's Super Bowl in Tampa, Sparks drew plenty of attention on her own.
"I had a lot of people coming up to me asking for pictures and autographs," she said. "It seems really crazy at the time while it's happening, but that's one of the things my dad has taught me is how to be polite and gracious."
The performance at the game was the start of a very memorable week for Sparks. On Tuesday she performed at the Commander in Chief's Inaugural Ball in Washington for military personnel and got to see President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. It was her second encounter with the nation's chief executive. In 2007 she traveled to Africa with President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush as part of the group Malaria No More distributing mosquito netting and other supplies to residents.
"I know that I have been truly blessed to have been that close to two presidents," she said.
She said she hopes to continue charity work through her Sparks Foundation. She will be performing in the Tampa area as part of the run-up to the Super Bowl next week to benefit the World Children's Center, an expansive campus outside Atlanta built to serve needy children.
With a new album due later this year, Sparks continues to forge an identity for herself in music beyond "American Idol" though ties to the show remain. She made an appearance when the show hosted its Phoenix auditions last summer and has built a friendship with last year's runner-up, fellow teenager David Archuleta.
"The weirdest thing about watching the auditions on 'American Idol' is that there's a huge picture of me in the background of where the contestants are standing," she said. "It's strange to see that."
What isn't strange to Sparks is finding different ways to express her faith. For her 18th birthday she had "1 Timothy 4:12" tattooed on her wrist. The verse appropriately reads: "Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity." Her mother and grandmother followed suit with their own Biblical tattoos.
"It is just another way for me to show what I believe," Sparks said.
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