Even Jordin Sparks knows how giddy she sounds. As the 19-year-old singer rattles off a list of favorite tracks from her new album "Battlefield"—out July 21 on 19 Recordings/Jive Records—her excitement is contagious. "I can't wait for you to hear them," she says. "I'm sure you can hear the smile in my voice."
There are plenty of reasons why Sparks is so happy. She's been able to give her sophomore set more attention than her 2007 self-titled debut, which was recorded in four weeks and rushed to stores soon after the Phoenix, Az., native won "American Idol." That album sold 1 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
This time, Sparks spent four months writing and recording, entering the studio in January and working with Dr. Luke, Stargate, Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic and T-Pain. "I knew I'd be able to get more involved because we had the time," Sparks says. "It's an amazing feeling to put my experiences on paper, and all of a sudden it becomes a song."
Like Sparks' debut, "Battlefield" leans heavily toward midtempo pop ballads with some songs skewing into R&B territory. The title track, produced and co-written by Tedder, debuted at No. 32 on the Billboard Hot 100 the week after Sparks introduced it as her first single on "Idol." Another standout track is the Dr. Luke/T-Pain collaboration "Watch You Go," the only song that features another artist. "It's got a slow, urban vibe," Sparks says of the song, "but don't worry—I don't think my voice is in AutoTune."
Choosing "Battlefield" as the first single was a bold decision, since the song finds Sparks straying from her cheery demeanor and singing assertively about the dark side of love. Her new manager says it fit with their strategy to present Sparks in a new light. "Jordin started out as the youngest 'American Idol' winner and had all the blessings that come with that," says Kevin Jonas, who's also the manager (and father) of the Jonas Brothers and handles Sparks with his partner Phil McIntyre. "But now it's important for Jordin to tell everyone, 'I am a strong woman and I have something to say.' "
Lisa Cambridge-Mitchell, senior VP of marketing at Jive Label Group, agrees. "There's a level of freedom and confidence about her that's growing every day, from finding her voice as a songwriter to figuring out what photographer she likes to work with. Things like that are empowering, especially for female artists."
A longer lead for Sparks' second album means more time to promote it, which is another big change for her and the label. "It is a challenge for the company overall, because initially it's very reactionary," Cambridge-Mitchell says of Jive's efforts to market debut albums by "Idol" winners. "With this project, we were able to start talking about our strategy in March." Sparks is booked to perform on "Good Morning America," "Live With Regis and Kelly" and "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon," and the label has partnered with the young plus-size women's fashion chain Torrid to host album-listening parties.
Jive also will release a deluxe version of "Battlefield" for $22.98 that features a bonus DVD with behind-the-scenes footage of the singer recording in the studio and working out with her new personal trainer. Extra footage will be picked up by AOL as exclusive content.
Dictating the rollout of all this is Sparks' upcoming tour with the Jonas Brothers, a 52-date run that kicks off June 20 in Arlington, Texas. The singer will have full use of the Jonas Brothers' production and return to the stage during their set to perform. "The Jonas Brothers have had to play front of curtain many times, so we said if we're ever headlining, we want to treat every person opening for the boys in a way that honors them," Jonas says. "Jordin will have the chance to show she can hold 30,000 people in the palm of her hand."
As expected, Sparks is relishing all these opportunities and the ones that will likely follow. "This tour is massive, and I feel very blessed to be a part of it," she says, adding that she hopes to keep bridging the gap between pop and R&B hits well into the next phase of her career. "I'm in a really great position right now. I know that's weird to say because there has to be that growth and evolution, but I want to stay right where I am."