Keep Shining

Keep Shining

Keep Shining

After Rising To Fame As the Winner of American Idol, Jordin Sparks Is In the Spotlight Once Again, Playing Whitney Houston's Daughter In the Remake of Sparkle

After Rising To Fame As the Winner of American Idol, Jordin Sparks Is In the Spotlight Once Again, Playing Whitney Houston's Daughter In the Remake of Sparkle

Photography: Mark Abrahams

Styling: Avena Gallagher

Text: Evelyn Crowley

Arriving at a crowded L.A. restaurant for lunch with Jordin Sparks, we find the 23-year-old singer/actress tucked away in a corner booth, the contents of her cosmetics bag spilled haphazardly across the table. “I have meetings with my agents and a potential manager today, so I want to put my best face forward,” she explains, dabbing foundation onto her already luminous visage. Most celebs treat their makeup regimes as classified information. But Sparks isn’t that kind of girl. All wide-eyed enthusiasm and toothy grin, the Glendale, Arizona, native charmed her way into the nation’s living rooms (and Simon Cowell’s icy heart) in 2007 when at 16 she became the youngest person ever to win American Idol. Now she’s set to tackle the big screen in the title role of the new Whitney Houston–backed reboot of the 1976 film, Sparkle.

Part musical, part cautionary tale, the movie tells the story of three sisters, Sparkle, Delores (Tika Sumpter), and Sister (Carmen Ejogo), whose successful Motown singing act disintegrates in the face of drug addiction and familial strife. Originally Houston had signed on solely as executive producer, but eventually agreed to also play the girls’ mother, Emma. “I think she was hesitant at first, and then she said, ‘Yeah, I really want to do that,’” says Sparks.

On set in Detroit at the first table read, Sparks, who had worshiped the pop star since childhood, was appropriately tonguetied. “She walked in and I was like, ‘This. Is. Awesome.’” But over time the two women grew close, bonding over a slavish devotion to the craft-services table and a near constant habit of singing under their breath. “One day, actually, she was walking behind me and singing ‘I Have Nothing,’” recalls Sparks. “And then she reached out and said, ‘I forgot I sang that. I was annoyed that day and just didn’t want to do it. We ended up doing it in three takes!’”

When Houston died unexpectedly in February, Sparks (who attended her memorial service) was grief-stricken. “She was always so full of light,” she says, choking back tears. “Every day…she would open the door and ask, ‘How are my babies this morning? Are my babies good? God is good. Praise the Lord.’” Still Sparks has no illusions about the demons that plagued her late costar (and, ironically, some of the film’s characters). “I can see how people can fall and people can flip or they can just get in with the wrong crowd,” she says.

For her part, Sparks says she relies on her close-knit family (dad is former NFL cornerback Philippi Sparks) to keep her grounded as she navigates the pitfalls of stardom. And, thus far, that tactic seems to be working. In the years since Idol, she’s hit a succession of high notes, including two charttopping R&B-inflected albums, a platinum-selling single, “No Air,” featuring Chris Brown (who she says is “so sweet and a gentleman”), a star turn in the Tony Award–winning Broadway play In the Heights, and a successful fragrance line. And to hear her tell it, this is just beginning. “I definitely want to build an empire,” she says.

And even if Sparks were to be left to her own devices in the face of fame, one senses, as does the singer herself (her adolescent accessory of choice was a purity ring, after all), that she wouldn’t veer too far off course. “I don’t know what’s going to happen a year from now,” she says, “But I’m pretty sure I’ll be the same person who shows up in a turtleneck and does her makeup at the table.”

Credits: Makeup Benjamin Puckey for Chanel Beauté (D+VManagement) Hair Cash Lawless ( The Magnet Agency) Manicure Elle for Essie (The Wall Group) Photo assistants Jason Geering and Eric Simmons Stylist assistants Solange Franklin and Stefani O’Sullivan Digital capture Tim Bell and Tara Chumpelik Location Jack Studios Printing BOX Special thanks Ron Fillman and Roy Schwalbach profile


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