On Promoting 'Sparkle' Without Whitney: "This was supposed to be her moment, you know"
The former "American Idol" champ tells Billboard that she's "got about seven songs that I feel very strongly about" ready for her third album. She's also been "writing a lot" and predicts that the set will have a bit more edge than its predecessors. "It's going to be different from what my fans have heard before," Sparks says. "With (2009's) 'Battlefield' it was pop/rock and a little bit of pop/R&B, but I'm going for more of the R&B side now, so it's like R&B/pop instead of pop/R&B."
Sparks has been working so far with Harmony Samuels, Da Internz and Pop Wansel & Oak, and she hopes to hit the studio with Harvey Mason, Jr.; the latter two also produced parts of the "Sparkle" soundtrack. "I don't really have a time limit," Sparks says. "I feel bad because my fans are getting impatient; they're asking me all the time, when is new music coming?' Soon, but it's been so long since I put out an album I don't want to rush it. I really want it to be perfect and really represent the place I'm in and the sounds I want to do."
Meanwhile, Sparks has also started her next film, "The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete," which is being filmed in New York and directed by Michael Starrbury. Alicia Keys is an executive producer, and co-stars include Jennifer Hudson, Anthony Mackie and Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje. Sparks plays "an Afro-Latina from the Bronx" named Alice and says "there's no music for me. I just get to be this character."
With the album and next film in progress, Sparks hopes "Sparkle" -- a remake of the 1976 film of the same name -- will tide fans over and serve as a kind of transition point in her still-young career." 'Sparkle' was so exciting for me because...my label was going through a transition and I parted ways with my management and I was kind of in this limbo stage," explains Sparks, who plays aspiring singer and songwriter Sparkle Williams in Detroit circa mid-1960s, leading a girl group with her sisters and pursuing a music career behind the back of a strictly religious mother played by Houston. "So 'Sparkle' fell into my lap and was perfect. I was able to do something new for me and expand on my artistry and do acting, but at the same time I can make some new music for my fans and it's part of the movie. Everything was kind of perfect for me."
She has nothing but good things to say about working with Houston, who Sparks says "made it so comfortable for all of us to just want to be around her and near her. She wanted us to shine. She could've just been like, 'I'm gonna do this and I'm gonna leave,' and she didn't have to talk to any of us or anything like that. But she really wanted to share this with all of us. She was so humble and so giving; you fell in love with her after you talked to her for five minutes."
Sparks, who duets with Houston on the R. Kelly-written single "Celebrate," says Houston was also "very quick-witted and had a very, very great sense of humor," often cracking up her co-stars while filming scenes."
That Houston, who died on Feb. 11, is not her to be part of "Sparkle's" roll-out makes the film's opening "very bittersweet" for Sparks.
"This was supposed to be her moment, you know," Sparks says. "It had been 15 years since she had done another movie and it was supposed to be her coming out moment -- and it is. She definitely delivers. This is my first film, so it was a huge thing already for me, and now that it's the end of Whitney's legacy and I'm in this film that's the last thing that people get to see of her, it makes it even bigger and just carry a lot more weight. The movie meant so much to her that now it means just as much to me, if not more because I want to represent it the way she would have wanted."