Whitney Unashamed of Who She Was: Sparks

Jordin Sparks in Sparkle (Alicia Gbur/2012 Stage 6 Films, Inc.)
Jordin Sparks in Sparkle (Alicia Gbur/2012 Stage 6 Films, Inc.)

(The Root) — Jordin Sparks wowed audiences when she won the sixth season of American Idol in 2007. Now the statuesque beauty hopes to win over more fans as she makes her big-screen debut as the title character in Sparkle — which hits theaters nationwide on Aug. 17.


Sparks, 22, stars alongside the late Whitney Houston in the remake of the 1976 cult film classic about three loving sisters (now portrayed by Sparks, Tika Sumpter as Delores "Dee" Anderson and Carmen Ejogo as Tammy "Sister" Anderson) who form a singing group. Unlike the original, which is set in 1950s Harlem, the 2012 version is set in 1960s Detroit at the height of the Motown's popularity. However, the life lessons, triumphs and tearjerker scenes are still present. Houston, who portrayed Emma, the Anderson sisters' mother, executive-produced the movie. The singer, who died in February at age 48, had been trying to get it on-screen for more than a decade.

Sparks' career has been blossoming beautifully since her Idol win. She released two albums — her multiplatinum-selling studio debut, Jordin Sparks, and her 2009 follow-up, Battlefield. In addition to Sparkle, the singer-actress has already begun filming her next movie. She stars opposite Jennifer Hudson, Jeffrey Wright and Anthony Mackie in the George Tillman-directed indie film, The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete. Plus, she's shed 50 pounds over the past 18 months.

The Root caught up with Sparks in Atlanta just before she headed to Philadelphia on what would have been Houston's 49th birthday. She chatted about meeting Mary Wilson of the Supremes, memorable moments with Houston and her amazing weight-loss journey.

The Root: I heard you got a chance to meet and hang out with Mary Wilson of the Supremes. What was it like meeting a singer from that era, and what advice did she give you?

Jordin Sparks: I grew up listening to the Motown sound — my grandparents introduced me to that — so my amazing publicist actually [arranged for us to meet] last September. I got to sit down and have dinner and ask her what it was like in the '60s. Did you guys get along? Were there some days when you didn't? She talked about how it was a lot of work and the tour busses weren't like what they are today. But she said the music was really important and it really spoke to what a lot of them were feeling.

I told her that I really didn't know how to [channel the era for my character] since I really didn't live [during that time]. And she was like, "All you have to do is really be yourself." The vernacular was a little different [back then] so listening to people in Detroit and listening to some clips online of the girls speaking helped me. I think Mary's coming to the premiere. I'm excited to be able to see her there and tell her thank you.


TR: What are your feelings about your film debut?

JS: I watch and I'm like, "I'm not as horrible as I thought I was." I was so nervous. I was beside myself and so excited when I got the part. Then I got nervous because it's such a huge part and a part that people love and have loved for a really long time. I really didn't want to mess it up.


TR: You and your cast members got to spend time with her onset. I'm sure that will stay with you always, right?

JS: It was amazing; she was so much fun and just so giving and open. And she didn't have to be, you know. She's Whitney Houston. Somebody of that star power and stature could've easily just walked on the set, done her lines and then said, "OK, I'm going to go now." But she wanted to get to know us. She wanted to see us all shine. She wanted to be there, even on days when she didn't have scenes.


It was just a reminder to always remain humble, and you're never too big to say hello to somebody or have a conversation with someone or give someone a smile. And she also wasn't ashamed of who she was or where she came from. It was an incredible thing to get that example from her.

TR: Do you have a favorite Whitney moment?

JS: One of my favorite moments was when we were breaking for the dinner scene. I went over to a separate room where the piano was and I just sat down and was kind of in my own little world. I had my eyes closed, and then two arms reached around me and started playing this beautiful melody and singing. I turned, looked over my shoulder and there was Whitney. I can't describe that moment as anything but intimate. It was just this moment in time where I could not believe that this was happening. Whitney just wanted to be close.


TR: You've been celebrating your film debut, but another milestone is that you've been able to keep off the 50 pounds you lost over the past 18 months. Soon after your 21st birthday, you decided to lose weight. How has the journey been for you?

JS: It's definitely a day-by-day thing. It all started because I just wanted to get healthy. I got really sick and I could've potentially been hospitalized or worse. I really changed my mindset and the way I looked at food — what I was eating, when and why I was eating it. Food is meant to be enjoyed. I would have food, then I'd go and have seconds because it tasted good, not because I needed it. So I really looked at that. I have been drinking water like it was my job. And I really upped my physical activity.


TR: How has the weight loss helped you with self-acceptance?

JS: It was all about getting healthy in the beginning. I never was like, I need to lose weight to be this skinny and I need to lose weight to look just like her. I loved myself just the way I was. Getting healthy was the start of it and then losing the weight was just a bonus. But it's been really nice. I feel good.


Aisha I. Jefferson is an Atlanta-based contributor to The Root.