The newest winner of the 20-week American Idol competition is only 17, but she should have seen her victory – with 74 million votes – coming because of her stage experience, confirms a new profile by John Dawson in World Magazine.
Jordin Sparks recently captured the honor in a runoff with Blake Lewis in a classic confrontation between talents. She sang with Gladys Knight. He collaborated with Smokey Robinson. It was a faceoff of hop vs. soul, mainstream vs. Christian pro-life, and when the verdict was read on the May 23 finale, both finalists fidgeted as they awaited the decision, then cheered and hugged.
But Sparks, American Idol’s sixth champion, should have seen it coming.
Though only 17, the World Magazine profile notes, she’s a veteran of the stage, launching her career in churches and for pro-life events before her age even reached double digits.
“Like other child stars, Jordin’s story starts with her parents. Phillippi Sparks was a standout football player in 1988 at Glendale Community College outside of Phoenix when he bumped into Jodi Wiedmann, an Arizona State student taking a class at Glendale, at a football scrimmage. He told her she had pretty eyes. When he saw her again on the Glendale campus, he repeated the line. She remembered him and they began dating,” Dawson writes. It wasn’t long before Jordin joined the family on Dec. 22, 1989.
Phillippi Sparks was an accomplished defensive back and punt returner at Arizona State, and in 1992, he was drafted by the New York Giants, where he moved into a starting role quickly before an injury forced him to the bench.
Accomplished on the field, he grated with teammates off, because he would talk openly about his religion and faith, but spent evenings living the nightlife in bars. In a 1995 interview with The New York Times he admitted his failure to walk his talk had alienated teammates and strained his relationship with his wife.
The change came after the 1994 season when Sparks rededicated his life as a Christian, he said. Teammates and coaches noticed it.
“I just have a whole new agenda,” he told the Times at the time. “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.””
Kim Schmidt, of the Phoenix-based pregnancy resource group With Child, said it was about that time the Sparks family got involved with pro-life groups and worked in their cause. Jordin soon was singing for some small audiences, and her career was born.
The family settled in Arizona after Sparks retired from the NFL, and in 2002, Jordin performed in “The Wiz” at the Valley Youth Center. A year later she recorded a demo album and auditioned for Star Search. With accelerating speed, she entered and won contests in 2004, the same year she won an episode of NBC’s America’s Most Talented Kids. She was second in the 2004 Music in the Rockies.
At Calvary Community Church on Phoenix, where Pastor Brad Eberly described her as “spiritually aware,” she joined the high-school ministry team and sang on a worship team. She also was singing at Arizona State games. And when NFL star-turned-U.S. Ranger Pat Tillman was killed in Afghanistan, she sang as his memorial service.
She was then 14, and her father said, “She has a gift from the man upstairs.”
Soon she was singing with shock-rocker-turned Christian Alice Cooper for the singer’s Christian charity, Solid Rock Foundation. She sang informally with Christian music legend Michael W. Smith.
“Ironically, they stopped by when George Huff, a former [Idol] contestant, was at the house,” Smith noted on his blog. “The three of us wound up around the piano and I remember thinking that I was playing and singing with two of the greatest voices I had heard in a long time. And Jordin … had a smile and personality as big an inviting as her voice.”
The result was an invitation for Jordin to sing backup for Smith on tour.
While climbing the ranks in the music industry, Jordin still took time to participate in the ministry her family felt called to help – the pro-life movement. She sang twice at an Arizona Right to Life rally in 2005. In February 2006 she was at the With Child’s Rally for Life.
Then came American Idol. On her biography, she listed winning the Gospel Music Association’s Overall Spotlight Winner award in 2004 as one of her top accomplishments. She listed God, Mom, and Dad as those she would like to thank on winning.
Now? “Our church’s concerted prayer effort for Jordin is that she’s not swallowed up by the industry,” Pastor Eberly told The Arizona Republic. “That she stays centered, that she can continue to have clarity as to who she is and where she comes from.”
Jordin, said Michael W. Smith, “is grounded in faith and family” and he believes she will be a role model for young people. “I think she’s ready,” he said.