Tony Cummings looks at the career of US pop star JORDIN SPARKS
It's the Commander-in-Chief's inaugural ball hosted by President
and the vast, elegantly dressed throng are in the highest spirits. On stage the band goes into a slow ballad and the singer, a black haired beauty in a svelte evening dress, begins with an introduction. The song, a new one, "Faith", is penned by the singer herself and is dedicated to the US troops being shipped off to Iraq. Jordin Sparks begins to sing. The combination of her moving dedication, the wistful beauty of the melody and Jordin's exquisitely phrased, perfectly pitched vocal quietens the crowd who minutes before were noisily chattering. As "Faith" reaches its anthemic climax the entire audience stand mute as Jordin's voice soars heavenward. "And when the sky's the darkest/And when you fall the hardest/You find how strong you are/Close your eyes, and rest awhile/It's been a long, long day/So come on baby, baby, come on baby/And have little faith/Have a little faith."
Jordin herself has faith. In numerous interviews the singing star who shot to fame through American Idol has acknowledged Jesus as the source of her strength and talent. She told journalist Peter Elliott, "I definitely recognise that I have a God-given talent. 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."
Jordin continued, "My faith has been a humungous part of how I have looked at my career. 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."
Music has been part of Jordin's world as long as she can remember. "I literally have been singing my whole life. Over Christmas my grandma pulled out these old videos of me singing 'Jingle Bells' when I was two and I knew all the words and was on key. It was crazy to see."
Jordin Brianna was born in Phoenix, Arizona on 22nd December 1989 to Jodi Weidmann-Sparks and former American football star Phillippi Sparks. When Sparks was on the field, he was a productive cornerback with a knack for interceptions. But off the field and in the locker room, Sparks had a propensity to grate on other players. He talked openly about the importance of religion and his faith to teammates but spent evenings contradicting his testimony by living the nightlife in bars. In an interview with the New York Times in 1995, Sparks admitted that his failure to walk the talk had alienated teammates and strained his relationship with his wife. That changed after the 1994 season: Sparks said he rededicated his life as a Christian, and teammates and coaches noticed the difference. "I just have a whole new agenda," Sparks told the Times. "I just want to take care of business, do what I have to do and my happiness comes from my wife and kids. I'm a whole new me."
Around the same time, the Sparks family became involved with pro-life groups back in Arizona and worked to help their cause, according to Kim Schmidt, executive director of the Phoenix-based pregnancy resource group With Child. By that time, Jordin already was singing - albeit to a small audience. Her father retired from the NFL after the 2000 season with Dallas, and the family fully settled into life in Arizona.
Jordin attended Northwest Community Christian School in Phoenix through to the eighth grade. She then went to Sandra Day O'Connor High School until 2006, then was home-schooled to better concentrate on her singing. She started taking singing lessons at age 14 from vocal coach Melissa Black and rigorously trained with her for almost a year, in order to perfect her skill. Sparks also attended the evangelical Calvary Community Church in Phoenix where her faith grew.
Jordin began to develop a local following in Arizona by singing at Arizona State games. When NFL player turned US Ranger Pat Tillman was killed in Afghanistan, she sang at his May 2004 memorial service. She was by then, barely 14, singing at a number of Christian events. "My daughter is well on the way to becoming a great singer," Phillippi Sparks told The Arizona Republic at the time. "She has a gift from the man upstairs."
In 2004 the 14 year old Jordin won the Music In The Rockies competition organised by the Gospel Music Association's GMA Academy. But rather than being snapped up by a Christian record label the singer began to look to an even more prestigious competition.
In the summer of 2006, Sparks auditioned twice for American Idol, once in Los Angeles (only auditioning for producers) and again in Seattle, after winning KSAZ Fox 10's "Arizona Idol". The Seattle audition was broadcast on 27th January 2007 broadcast of American Idol where she earned a "gold ticket" and the right to appear in the Hollywood Round. While on the show, Sparks gained a loyal fan base known as "Sparkplugs" (even having their own official fan site). On 23rd May 2007 Sparks was crowned the winner of the sixth season of American Idol. She was the fourth winner never to have been voted in the bottom three (after Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Taylor Hicks). Simon Cowell said, "Jordin was the most improved over the whole season - didn't start the best, but midway through this was the girl who suddenly got momentum."
In the long history of the close relationship between pop music and television, absolutely nothing has been as important to the music industry as the talent search franchises known (in Britain) as Simon Fuller's Popstars and Simon Cowell's X Factor and (in the USA) as American Idol and America's Got Talent. The televised talent search has gone a long way to replacing the old style record company A&R man. Where once record companies employed individuals to go to gigs and showcases, hold auditions and restlessly search for "the next big thing" today most such activities are now limited to rock music. In the pop and R&B fields it's become the public, through the weekly trial by television, who decide which are the artists to be signed and recorded. In the US each American Idol series has thrown up a bevy of finalists, pounced on by the multi-nationals as potential cash cows. It doesn't always work, of course. A couple of American Idol acts have gone on to become consistent hitmakers, like Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, long after the memory of their American idol appearances began to fade with the mass public. Others, like Clay Aiken, hit big for a season but never made it to long term sales success. And others flopped miserably.
There is a similar scenario in the Christian scene, the Christian record labels signing all the American Idol finalists who profess Christian faith they can. Sometimes the signings establish themselves as long term sellers in gospel (Mandisa) or CCM (Chris Sligh). Sometimes the acts have more limited success (Reuben Studdard, George Huff, Brooke Barretsmith). And sometimes Christian music observers are left to wait to see whether Jason Allen Rich, Chris Daugherty or Melinda Doolittle will enjoy long term Christian music careers or slip quickly out of the CD racks.
Throughout her American Idol media exposure, Jordin was outspoken about her Christian faith. On the American Idol website, she spoke about how she "prays and breathes" before she goes on stage. But like other Christians before her, like Fantasia and Diana DeGarmo, Jordin was keen to sign to a mainstream record deal.
Jordin had actually begun her recording career with the independent EP 'For Now' released in 2004 when the singer was just 14. And when her talent search appearances were pushing her to stardom, the songs she sang in the series went on sale on iTunes and the American Idol official website as 'Jordin Sparks EP' (called a "bundle" on the Idol official website) shortly after the finale of Idol, along with other songs that did not make the EP's cut being sold as individual singles.
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