Having Vocal Chops vs. Having Soul

Last night, I got a chance to see Jordin Sparks make her movie acting debut in Sparkle, an enjoyable film and one that I’m sure David would totally appreciate, especially if he could cheer on his friend and fellow Idol alum.

So, watching Jordin take on the title role of “Sparkle” while being expected to shine alongside legends like the late great Whitney Houston and the acting powerhouse that is Carmen Ejogo in the role of “Sister,” all I could think of is this:

She is sooooo lucky she won American Idol the season prior to David’s season.

Being compared to someone with obvious charisma and vocal depth like David would definitely have shown up her own shortcomings.

Had Sparks waited a year or two later, she would not ever have advanced as far as she did in the competition.  And who would then remember to launch her career, pair her up musically with Chris Brown, or even cast her in the remake of a movie like Sparkle?

Timing is everything, isn’t it?

Sparkle, for those of you outside of the African American or R&B music community, is a “cult” movie class from 1976, giving us such Curtis Mayfield hits as “Giving Him Something He Can Feel” (there’s an Aretha Franklin version and an updated ’90s En Vogue version).  Even without Whitney Houston’s untimely passing, black folks were going to show up for this baby on opening weekend (as had occurred in the movie theater where I attended). Houston executive produced this remake and had in mind Aaliyah in the titular role, but the young R&B songstress died before filming ever began.

Seeing Jordin Sparks in the role made me wonder what Aaliyah would have brought to the table if she were still living.

Let me try and explain.

Sparks is a sweetheart in this movie, and I think her personality comes through as the “good church girl” her character conveyed. My problem? It was a role that didn’t require her to stretch, nor was it a persona that could really “pop” on screen, no real “sparkle,” as ironic as that is.  Perhaps her inexperience shows here, in a way that Jennifer Hudson’s was less obvious in the movie Dreamgirls, thanks to a strong director like Bill Condon and Hudson’s own powerhouse vocals.

Jordin’s inexperience was especially obvious when acting opposite her on-screen love interest, Derek Luke, who’s a major acting force (and one who hasn’t gotten enough critical acclaim), as well as Carmen Ejogo, who steals the show (her performance alone is worth the movie ticket price).

Still, considering the one-dimensional character Jordin is expected to play, it doesn’t take away too much from the movie, which managed to be an engrossing story.

And while Hudson made up for her acting flaws with her show-stopper number, “And I am Telling You I’m Not Going,” Sparks’s finale, “One Wing,” which was supposed to deliver the same show-stopping feel, just never rose to the occasion IMO.

Don’t get me wrong: Jordin Sparks can sing, and she had the vocal chops to take on all the runs and octaves and what have you (replete with gospel choir and everything). It just lacked the one thing I think it needed: SOUL.

It’s that same lack of soul that had me cheering on her competitor Melinda Doolitte during Jordin’s season on Idol. Alas, Idol audiences tend to prefer safe pop compared to the “soul” that makes you dig deep into a song, and that’s what kept Sparks from really “sparkling” in her movie debut.

Now, take Whitney Houston as contrast. She only has one music scene in the movie, when she delivers the gospel rendition of “His Eye is on the Sparrow” in church, and let me tell ya: despite her worn-out raspy voice, there wasn’t a dry eye in the movie theater (I myself was boohooing saltwater tears), and we all erupted into spontaneous applause at the end.  We FELT that song.

That to me is SOUL.

It was the one thing that I believe would have made Jordin’s performance of “One Wing” really soar.

But the movie is a melodrama, so you suspend your disbelief and accept that her song was enough to get everyone on their feet and lead her to a record deal. It’s the kind of ending that mirrors her own good luck on Idol.

I wish her the best, and I’m glad to have supported her and the rest of the cast, especially Houston’s final movie, by going to see Sparkle this weekend.

I also hope Jordin continues to learn and to grow, for I think she’s got some great qualities to work with (a fine voice, a beautiful face, and a genuinely nice persona).

But star quality? I’m not convinced just yet.

Some folks have to find it, while others (*cough* David *cough*) bask in it without trying. Like I said before, she’s very lucky she appeared on Idol before anyone ever saw David on the same show.

All in all, the movie was a pleasure to watch, much more nuanced than Dreamgirls, and definitely worth checking out.


Posted on August 19, 2012, in American Idol. Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Great Review HG! I will probably go later today to catch a show.
    What I am realizing now is that American Idol seem to be churning out actors as well as singers. First Hudson, Fantasia – Broadway, Carrie in Soul Surfer, Sparks who I read is prepping for another movie, David – who loved his stint in NAko and will probably act some more on his return, and Jessica who will act in Glee.

  2. Very nice thought provoking review, hg. It seems to me like Jordin might be a bit over her head in a major role in a movie. Perhaps her management should have started Jordin out in a lesser TV role like David did in the Philippines. The reviews were mixed on Jordin’s acting and Sparkle but I don’t always agree with the critics. I just don’t have an interest to see the movie. I agree that Jordin has been lucky and timing is everything. I would have loved to see Aaliyah in that role. Not everyone has the charisma and soul and vocal depth of David. Well stated, hg. He is a natural with not a phony bone in his body. That is for sure.

  3. Nice review! I will see the movie later this afternoon. Re. Derek Luke, he reminds me of Don Cheadle … great actor but underrated.

    Re. Jordin, I know she was very involved with the Arizona theater as a child and she still regularly visits local school theater departments. I guess for the big screen, she may need a bit more experience.

  4. Hg, thank you for the review, love reading everything you write, you are a natural at writing, like David is a natural at singing.
    Glad you enjoy the movie, I’m not much of a movie goer, so I’ll wait until it comes to tv.

    • Jordin has been very lucky in her timing. She said in an interview that she was changing her management and her label was changing so she couldn’t put out an album when she got this part. She hasn’t put out an album since 2009. Being a David fan we have been fortunate to get lots of music from him. I think we are getting actors from AI because there is money in acting. I hope David does do some acting when he returns.

      • That is interesting that Jordin in the interview stated she’s changing management as she was managed by the Jonas brothers management company after she left 19M. I know her mother has always been very involved in her career. I hope David pursues acting too when he returns.

      • Yes, she said she left that management (Jonas’ Brothers’ Dad). She didn’t say who her current management is, but they seem to be getting her out there. Of course being in Sparkle and the untimely death of Whitney Houston, did get Jordin a lot of publicity since she has a leading role in the movie. It will be interesting to see if she really takes off from here (or not).

  5. i just came back from seeing Sparkle. Jordin was good; I’m proud of her for landing this role. With regard to acting, she doesn’t compare to the two women who play her sisters in the movie. Overall, the script was a bit weak and I couldn’t wait for the movie to end. I attended a funeral earlier this afternoon and that may have impacted my feelings about the movie.

  6. grammy, thanks for the update on jordin’s career. i had no idea that she changed management. in a sense, i felt that she might as well be dropped from her label because they sure weren’t letting her release new music.

    this article mentions some of what jordin was going thru:

    “…her music career was unexpectedly in flux last year while she was parting ways with her management and her label was undergoing a shake-up. Unable to record a new album and uncertain of her future, Sparks looked to another passion – acting.”

    • Yes grammyj thanks for the info. I find the change in management for Jordin to be very interesting. I wonder who the current management is? Music artists and celebrities do change management frequently.

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