David’s Peers Series #1: Spotlight on Jordin Sparks
Confession time: I was not all that happy when Jordin Sparks won American Idol during Season 6. I was still smarting over my favorite contestant, Melinda Doolittle, getting the boot during Top 3 week.
That surprise vote-off made me very resentful that there wasn’t a true DIVA sing-off for the finale. I was certain Melinda would sing circles around Jordin, or at least show up her flaws, but that was not meant to be, so Jordin easily won in a landslide over the lesser vocally talented Blake Lewis.
Because Season 6 showcased the younger, “squeaky clean” 17 year-old Jordin winning over the massively talented Melinda Doolittle and the musically innovative Blake Lewis, Jordin isn’t always heralded as one of the great Idol winners. She’s not up there with Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. Nor is she as “urban” as Fantasia or Ruben Studdard.
Her career would be a hard climb, and as things turned out, I’ve come to admire Jordin Sparks’ slow burn and slow growth from Idol winner to pop singer ready to make her film debut.
In many ways, comparing her career to David’s, you can see some striking similarities and differences.
1. They were both 17 when they appeared on American Idol.
2. They both had fierce stage dads – the big difference is Jordin’s dad, a former professional football player, didn’t make the headlines.
3. They became the first two Idol contestants to sign to Jive records.
And here’s what’s interesting about Jordin’s eventual signing to Jive. Rumor had it back then that Jordin’s dad was being such a stickler about RCA’s record contract (the big award that Idol winners were saddled with) that he refused to sign until way late into the summer season; meanwhile Jordin was still on the Idol tour. Eventually, Jive – as a sister label to RCA – signed Jordin Sparks since they were more flexible and since they also had more experience working with underage artists – like Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Usher, and Chris Brown.
And believe me, peeps, I firmly believe that Idol producers’ experience with Jordin’s dad is the reason why, when Jeff Archuleta came along the following season, they weren’t having it. I really believe that their experience with Jordin’s dad was the reason why they were more prepared to try and “neutralize” David’s stage dad, why certain behind-the-scenes info was leaked to the press and why, mid-season, they switched horses and chose to back David Cook for the Idol crown over David Archuleta.
Their experience with Jordin is also why they immediately sent David over to Jive while RCA worked with Cook. Remember when David revealed on Larry King that, after the finale, he was told that he’d be signing with Jive, end of discussion?
Yep, so in some interesting ways, Jordin changed the game for teenaged contestants on Idol. And out in the real world – where, even radio DJs, who played her Idol coronation song, “This is My Now,” would routinely ask in response: “I wonder how Melinda Doolittle would sound on that?” – Jordin would have to prove her merit.
Her first single, after the coronation song, “Tattoo,” did respectably well. It was appropriately bubble-gum pop for a young mixed-race black girl, who wasn’t hard enough to rival other young black divas like Kesia Coles, Ciara, Rihanna, or the gals from Destiny’s Child (including Beyonce) out in the game, what with her professed “purity ring” and pledge to wait until marriage. But her voice was still more mature – as were her looks – to rival her Disney contemporaries.
Jive made a killer decision when she was paired with Chris Brown to do her monster hit, “No Air,” a song for which I still love to hear what she and David did to it:
But if Jive knew how to pick the pop songs that dominate charts – the way they perfectly matched David with “Crush” – they also proved to cave into ridiculous market demands, the way they did in photoshopping Jordin to a slimmer image on her next album, Battlefield.
Needless to say, Jordin got the message quickly and began her weight loss.
Alas, her subsequent album, I Am Woman, which provided a stark contrast of her image and featured lackluster songs that didn’t know how to capture her strong vocals, didn’t do well, hence showcasing Jive’s steady decline in the pop music market. However, unlike David, Jordin had awesome management, who shrewdly had her opening for major pop artists – first with the Jonas Brothers when they were hot, Britney Spears, and The New Kids on the Block. She also branched out and appeared on Broadway’s In the Heights, a Latin@ musical, back in 2010.
Now, Jordin is set to have a major breakthrough (remember what happened to Jennifer Hudson after appearing in Dreamgirls back in 2006?) as she co-stars alongside Whitney Houston in the upcoming movie musical Sparkle, which I’m definitely looking forward to.
When I compare Jordin Sparks to David Archuleta, I feel nothing but good vibes for her. I think she is the poster child for how to keep on keeping on and what it means to have shrewd management, no matter how well or how poorly your own albums sell. Of course, I don’t know if she’s still dealing with her “stage dad,” but she’s maturing, openly dating the current pop star Jason Derulo, and has also found a way to coyly yet maturely comment on why she’s no longer wearing her “purity ring” anymore. As she put it: “People grow.”
And I imagine she will continue to grow.