When we first fell for that big voice and megawatt smile on last season’s “American Idol,” Jordin Sparks was 17. Doesn’t that seems like ages ago in pop culture time? Well, guess what? She’s still 17.
“It’s all kind of surreal,” concedes Sparks via telephone from New York where she’s on a whirlwind tour to launch her new self-titled CD. “Last year at this time, I would have never thought that I’d be making an album and working with these amazing people. It’s just like, ‘Oh my goodness.’”
With rich, assured vocals by Sparks and A-list songwriting and producing talent like Stargate (Beyoncé, Ne-Yo), Amanda Ghost (James Blunt’s “Beautiful”) and the Underdogs (Britney Spears, Chris Brown) behind it, “Jordin Sparks” offers a tasteful, tuneful treat for pop lovers who are ready to graduate from “High School Musical” but aren’t quite up for going to “Rehab” with Amy Winehouse.
“I finally understand why people love being in the studio so much,” gushes Sparks when asked her favorite part of the recording process, “because you start out with nothing and at the end of the day you have this amazing new product in your hand. It’s really, really cool.”
Dennis Hensley: Your current single is the ballad “Tattoo.” Do you like tattoos and would you ever get one?
Jordin Sparks: There are some tattoos that don’t make any sense, but if they mean something, I totally understand why somebody would get one. I think I might get one when I’m 18. My mom’s is going to go with me and I’m going to get my brother’s name, P.J. It’ll be small and dainty, nothing huge or where people can see it all the time.
Hensley: There’s a song on your CD called “God Loves Ugly” that talks about self-esteem in a really fresh, frank way. Where did that song come from?
Sparks: The girl who wrote it, Christa Black, sent me her EP about a year and a half ago and I fell in love with that song the first time I heard it. So I called her up this summer and said, “I don’t know if you would ever consider this, but would it be all right if I sang your song on my album?” and she said, “I’ve been waiting for you to ask me.” I hope people like it. To me, the song is about how there’s going to be that one person who loves you for you, whether it’s boyfriend or a friend or God himself or anybody. There’s going to be that person who loves you even if you have a blemish on your face, if you’re having a bad hair day, if you gain a little bit of weight, if you’ve lost weight. It does not matter.
Hensley: So you found the song. Your label didn’t bring it to you?
Sparks: Right. I was very excited that I had found it on my own. I was like, “I don’t care what you guys have to do to make it happen, I just have to have this song on my album.” And my label made it happen so I definitely love them for that.
Hensley: Where were you the first time you heard your song on the radio?
Sparks: I was in New York in my hotel room by myself. I had just gotten done doing a phone interview for Z-100 and right after, they played my song. I just started bawling. I couldn’t control it. It was one of best feelings ever.
Hensley: This summer you performed on the Pop-Tarts American Idols Live! Tour. I thought the tart name was a little insulting until I realized it referred to the breakfast pastry. Did you have Pop-Tarts coming out of your ears?
Sparks: Oh my gosh, there were so many Pop-Tarts, in the dressing rooms, on the tour bus. They were everywhere. I didn’t eat them everyday because I knew if I did, I wouldn’t want to eat them anymore. I haven’t had one since the tour and a Pop-Tart kind of sounds really good right now.
Hensley: On “American Idol” they showed you visiting the Arizona mall where you used to work in a clothing store. What’s your favorite mall food?
Sparks: I used to go to Dairy Queen all the time and get the strawberry cheesecake Blizzard or a Mr. Misty Float with extra ice cream.
Hensley: Which fellow “Idol” have you stayed closest to since the tour?
Sparks: Melinda (Dolittle). I don’t know what I would have done without her if she hadn’t been on the tour. She was like my lifeline.
Hensley: I spotted your biggest “Idol” challenger Blake Lewis the other day at my neighborhood taco stand. I didn’t speak to him but I did notice that he insisted on buying lunch for his colleagues.
Sparks: Blake is a really good guy so I would totally expect him to do something like that. Yay, Blake!
Hensley: Back in the day, when you would daydream about being a pop star, what scenarios would you act out?
Sparks: I used to put on my nicest dress and pretend that I was at an awards show. (Laughs) I would also blast my music as loud as I could and try to sing exactly like the person who was singing it.
Hensley: Looks like it all paid off.
Sparks: I always just thought it could be me. I was like, “I want to be on the stage. I want to sing. I want to travel.” Now it’s happening and I can’t believe it.
Dennis Hensley is an “American Idol” junkie and the author of the books “Misadventures in the (213)” and “Screening Party.” www.dennishensley.com