Sometimes it's easy to forget Jordin Sparks is only 18.
She has the big, powerful voice and poise under pressure of singers twice – maybe, three times – her age. She has a natural ease at being onstage, at being in the spotlight.
But catch her behind the scenes or talk to her about real life, like wanting to go to her prom or struggling to keep her room clean, and the teenager comes out.
It's a mix that even fits her current tour of arenas, her first without her “American Idol” pals, opening for Alicia Keys – an idea that couldn't have even been a dream 18 months ago. “When they told me that I was going with her, my jaw just dropped to the floor,” Sparks says. “I was like, seriously? Really? Alicia Keys that has the No. 1 album in the country right now wants me to be out on her tour? … I sang ‘Fallin,' I mean, I don't know how many times, for friends and family and some competitions, so it's just crazy that everything's kind of coming full circle for me from singing her stuff to now opening up for her. Wow, it's insane.”
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Of course, Sparks has enough chart successes of her own to merit the call. Her single, “No Air,” with Chris Brown, has been lodged in the Top 10 for months now, and the new single “One Step at a Time” was launched last month on the “American Idol” finale, when she passed the “Idol” torch to David Cook. Though many have called sales of her eponymous debut, which recently went gold, disappointing, Sparks reacts with the big-picture view of a veteran and the optimism of a thrilled newcomer.
“I'm pretty sure it's just the way the industry is changing, because I know even before any of this happened – I just wanted the song, and not so much maybe the whole album, unless it was really good,” she says. “I'm proud of the numbers that I've sold, because I've just broken in this thing, and I'm working on it, so I'm excited. From (when Kelly Clarkson won in 2002) to now, everything has changed so much, and it's all about downloading and iTunes and singles, and so I kind of think that's what part of it is, but I'm really glad that my singles are doing well.”
Sparks says she is looking forward to working on her next album, when she will get a chance to write more and have more control over what it sounds like.
“I'm so new to this, I don't really know what I had planned,” she says. “I mean, we didn't really have a specific sound we were going for, anything like that. What I kind of did is, we would go through the songs, and I just picked songs that I liked, that I just thought I related to in some sort of way, that I knew that I wouldn't mind singing in a couple of years, and that kind of helped me. … And as far as the producers go, yes, I was intimidated a little bit. I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, oh, my gosh, I don't know what's going on.' But they were all really, really cool, really nice. They helped me out a lot and showed me some really cool things in the studio.”
For Sparks, the learning curve is natural. She's eager to try her hand at producing, as well. She looks at it as just another challenge, one of many she's learned to deal with since winning “American Idol,” including the health scare earlier this year, when she lost her voice for a few days.
“I've had a lot of things happen,” Sparks says. “I've had a couple of deaths in the family, just thrown on top of all the stress … and it was crazy how things kind of – how things kind of worked out. But it was cool, because I had my family to help me out, and it was cool because they helped me become stronger as a person, and they were able to help, you know – ‘It's OK, Jordin. Just let things go and you'll be fine, and you can do this,' and so it was just really cool to see that happen.”