INTERVIEW: Jordin Sparks Is All Set to Sparkle

The Broadway star and former American Idol champion shares the behind-the-scenes story of her new movie with Whitney Houston.

Jordin Sparks and Whitney Houston in Sparkle
(© Alicia Gbur)
Jordin Sparks and Whitney Houston in Sparkle
(© Alicia Gbur)

Jordin Sparks was 17 when she became the youngest person to win American Idol, and her career has been a whirlwind ever since. She has recorded three albums, performed on tour with Alicia Keys and Britney Spears, and made her Broadway debut as Nina Rosario in the Tony Award-winning musical In The Heights.

On August 17, she jumps to the big screen debut opposite the late Whitney Houston in Sparkle, the remake of the 1976 film about a musical prodigy who struggles to become a star while her family is torn apart. Sparks recently spoke to TheaterMania about the film, working with Houston, and her future career plans.

THEATERMANIA: How much acting had you done before this movie?
JORDIN SPARKS: It was drama club in school, then community, and then Broadway, which is where I really got bitten by the acting bug.

TM: What was the audition process like for Sparkle?
JS: I did four auditions. When I first read the script the words were jumping off the page to me. I was emotional, I was excited, I was angry. I thought it will be something special for whoever gets the part. But I told myself ‘you have no experience, so know that there’s a real possibility you won’t get this.’ When you give me a microphone to sing, it’s no problem, but walking in and trying to become a different character, I was terrified. When they called to tell me I got the part, I was shaking and my heart was pounding.

TM: Did you relate to Sparkle’s journey to be a star?
JS: Our stories are very similar. She starts off very young and naïve and goes through a huge growth arc. I was 17 when I won Idol and I’ll be 23 in December, and there’s been a lot of growing up in between. I related to her in the fact that she was so determined and strong willed. The only difference between Sparkle and me was that my parents have been 100 percent behind me since I opened my mouth and started crying on key when I was born! Music is always something I wanted to do. And I wanted to be a star too.

TM: In the film, your mother was played by Whitney Houston. What did you learn from acting opposite her?
JS: She was very encouraging to me. I had no experience, so I was walking around the set not knowing if I’m doing it right. And she would say, “It’s okay. You’ve got this. Don’t worry. You have to believe in your talent and know that you have it.” And that’s something that I’ve carried with me. When I had to sing “I Will Always Love You” at the Billboard Awards it was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. I remember getting ready to walk on stage and I heard her say, “you’ve got this.”

TM: What was her presence like on the set?
JS: She wanted to see everything. I remember my last scene on the movie, in the red dress, she came over to me and put my head between her hands and said “you were everything that we wanted.” I lost it right there. To have your idol tell you that! That was the type of woman she was. She was so nurturing. She wanted to see everyone else succeed and that’s very rare.

TM: Will you be involved in the movie version of In The Heights?
JS: If they ask me to be, I would love to play Nina again! First, I love musicals. I have a heart for them and I grew up watching them. And because In The Heights is so current I think it could really translate on screen.

TM: What’s next for you?
JS: I’m recording another album and I just started shooting another movie called The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete. Alicia Keys is producing it and Jennifer Hudson is also in it. I just have a small part. Right now, I can’t fit another thing on my plate and that’s ok!