"Bittersweet" is how Jordin Sparks describes the promotional duties for her film debut Sparkle without her idol Whitney Houston by her side. The musical (in theaters across the country today), a remake of the 1976 movie about the rise of Supremes-esque girl group in the turbulent 1960s, was a longtime passion project for Houston, who died in February not long after wrapping her final big screen role as the mother of the trio (which also includes actresses Carmen Ejogo and Tika Sumpter). Sparks is effervescent, nonetheless, as she should be. Since winning season 6 of American Idol, the 22-year-old has become a top-selling recording artist and even starred on Broadway in the Tony Award-winning musical In the Heights. Sparks sits down with The Advocate to discuss her film debut, remember her first visit to a gay bar, and share the lessons she learned from "the cautionary tale" of Houston.
The Advocate: Tell me about auditioning to play Sparkle. Were you nervous?
Jordin Sparks: I was so nervous. I had to tell myself that there was a chance that I wouldn’t get it. I told myself that I’d never know unless I tried. They called me back three times. The last time was for a chemistry read, which was different and new. [Laughs] It was the scene where Stix kisses me. I was like three strangers are going to kiss me? It was crazy. But Derek [Luke] and I really hit it off, though. He asked, “Can we pray together really quick?” That eased all my anxiety.
Were you aware that Whitney was producing and costarring in the film?
I knew that she was one of the executive producers, but she hadn’t signed on to play the mother until after I got the part. The pressure of doing a lead role in a movie without having any experience was already there, but when Whitney signed on I thought, OK, now I can’t be horrible. I’ve got to step my game up. But it was so much fun and the whole cast was so helpful.
Was it intimidating to have to sing and act with her?
It was at first because she was this supernova superstar who I’d grown up listening to. You hear stories of people meeting their idols and it not going so well. I got so lucky because it was everything I ever dreamed of and more.