LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Five years after becoming the youngest female to win “American Idol,” Jordin Sparks restarts her career in a new movie role that the 22-year-old sees as remarkably close to her own life singing her way to fame.
Just like her real-life parents, Sparks’ onscreen mother Whitney Houston cheered and coached her, off camera, as she rebounded from career changes and transitioned from music to the movie “Sparkle,” which hits theaters on Friday.
Houston, in the last screen role before her accidental death in February, plays a tough mother who is set on sabotaging her daughter’s dream in her last, feisty role before her accidental death in February.
”‘Sparkle’“ came at a moment where I was actually pretty unsure with what was happening in my career,” Sparks told Reuters.
The singer released two albums after winning “Idol” and was nominated for a Grammy for her collaboration with Chris Brown on the 2009 pop song “No Air”. A year later she tried her hand on Broadway like many past “Idol” alums, in the Tony Award-winning show “In the Heights”.
It all seemed to be going well, until things fell apart.
“My label was going through a transition and people were let go. Then I parted ways with my management and then I had some things personally going on,” Sparks said, but did not elaborate.
“It just felt like everything was starting to not work out all at once. I was like, ‘This is it? Five years and that’s it?”
But along came the offer to play the sister named Sparkle whose stellar voice leads her to fame. Sparks said she saw parallels between her own ambition and that of the strong-willed singer who wanted more than anything to perform and wasn’t going to let anyone stand in her way.
The major difference, Sparks said, is that unlike Houston’s role in the film, Sparks own parents have been “100 percent supportive of me from the beginning.”
“I knew that music was what I wanted to do. I knew that I was going to be a singer. I just didn’t know when, but I was going to do what it took to get there,” Sparks said.
Sparks portrays one of three sisters - the other two are played by Carmen Ejogo and Tika Sumpter - who form a girl group during the 1960s over the protestations of their mother only to find that fame can tear their family apart.
The rise to music stardom is a climb that Houston, a huge pop star of the 1980s and 1990s with hits like “How Will I Know”, knew all too well, and by the time she made her acting debut, in 1992’s “The Bodyguard”, she was a huge star.
Houston drowned in a hotel bathtub last February at age 48.
Houston provided Sparks a shoulder on which to lean and a voice of experience when making the film.
“The biggest thing I took from Whitney was you’re never too big to sit down with somebody. You’re never too big to say ‘hello’ or to smile at someone,” Sparks said.
“She would sit and talk like we had known each other for years. For that example to come from a superstar, somebody I idolized, was just amazing.”
Playing a character like Sparkle, who is young and naive at the film’s beginning before blossoming into a young woman by the end, is a journey that resonates with Sparks who said she, too, feels like she is at the same stage - a new beginning.
“I feel like I‘m blossoming into a woman and coming in to my own,” she said.
On August 1, Sparks and her boyfriend, singer Jason Derulo, 22, celebrated their one year anniversary together.
Sparks said during the filming of “Sparkle” turned more serious after both suffered setbacks. Derulo narrowly escaped paralysis when he broke his neck while rehearsing an acrobatic move while training for a tour. A few weeks later, Houston died and Sparks lost a new friend.
“Both of us realized how much we really cared for each other,” she said. “Your priorities get in line when stuff like that happens. The feelings grew really, really deep.”
Sparks, once known for wearing a purity ring to symbolize her dedication to avoid losing her virginity before marriage, blushed when told it was noticeably absent from her finger.
“Well, I wear lots of rings, but hey,” she said laughing.
“The conversation of marriage and family is something that doesn’t scare us,” Sparks said of their relationship. “We have those conversations.”
But don’t look for a wedding any time soon. Sparks is back in the studio recording her third album, which she says will have a more R&B sound, thanks to the influence of “Sparkle”. And she is now shooting her second film, “The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete”, with Anthony Mackie and “Idol” contestant-turned-Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson.
“I didn’t think I would get another super-mega career turning point,” Sparks said of the way her life has transformed since “Sparkle.”
“I figured personally, marriage in a few years, then kids. But as far as career goes, I have no idea what’s coming. I‘m just buckling up!”
(This story is being refiled to correct typo in film title in headline and paragraph 2)
Reporting By Zorianna Kit; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Richard Chang