At 17, Jordin Sparks became the youngest contestant ever to win American Idol (a record she still holds). Soon after, Sparks became a radio staple with hits like “One Step at a Time,” “No Air” and “Battlefield.” Now the Grammy nominee is making her Broadway debut playing In the Heights' neighborhood go-getter, Nina Rosario. Broadway.com caught up with the Idol champ on her opening night to find out how she’s enjoying her new life onstage.
In the Heights marks your Broadway debut. How’s the show going so far?
It’s a dream to be on Broadway. I’ve done some community theater and did drama club, then all of a sudden Idol happened and I had my solo career, but this is a dream I’ve always had. I just thought it would be another five or ten years down the road! It’s amazing. The cast is so supportive and I’m finally getting in to the groove of things.
In the Heights focuses so much on the importance of community. How did the cast welcome you?
With big open arms! They’ve been so supportive. It’s my first time on Broadway, and I’m with Priscilla Lopez, who was in the original A Chorus Line! And Rick [Negron who plays Nina’s Father, Kevin] has done so many shows. Everybody is a pro at this, and they’ve been telling me things to try, and [reassuring me] that everything will be OK. The other day my voice was a little raspy, and Olga [Merediz] said, ‘Come here, let me help you.’ She literally is like an abuela to me.
What’s surprised you most about Broadway?
Oh my goodness gracious, the schedule! I’ve toured [as a singer], but there’s nothing compared to this! On tour, you do a show, get a day off, do a show, get a day off. Here, everything you do during the day is in preparation for the performance that night. So I’m getting used to being a little more disciplined, warming up more and being aware of my surroundings. I really have to be in tune with my body and my throat because it gets pretty crazy.
One of your big numbers is called “When You’re Home.” When you’re on the road touring, how do you maintain a sense of home?
I have my dogs with me. I cuddle with them all the time, but the cool thing is, with technology now, I can video chat with my family. I call them up a lot, but really there’s nothing like the physicality of being able to hug your mom, grandma and brother. My brother and I are really close. I’ll actually get to go see some of his football games during the show which I’m excited for.
Speaking of tours, you’ve opened for some pretty big names, including the Jonas Brothers and Britney Spears. Any fond memories from those experiences?
Everything was so much fun. Both tours were in the round; to perform in that way is phenomenal except that everyone can see every single side of you! So you have to work almost three times as hard because you’re moving everywhere. The [Jonas] boys were so sweet and we all hung out a lot. It was almost like summer camp at the end, where you don’t want to leave. And I never in a million years I thought I’d be touring with Britney Spears! Her show was phenomenal. She was dancing her butt off.
Which led to you headlining your own tour earlier this year.
It was great. I did smaller venues like House of Blues and other clubs. It was fun to have more of an intimate setting, but being on my own tour brought a little more pressure because people were buying tickets to see me. As an opening act, I got to warm up the crowd and then someone came after me, but as the main act I was like, "Ah! I have to put on a really good show!" It was different, but I had a complete blast. This summer has been non-stop! I went from my last day on the tour straight to working on In the Heights.
Has this experience been comparable to your tours and performing on Idol?
It’s different on tour because I’m singing my own songs and can talk to the audience. Here, I have to talk anywhere but the audience! [The actors] have to be in our world and the audience has to be in theirs. Idol was kind of like boot camp for doing Broadway because my mindset clicked in: "I need to keep going and maintain my voice and top myself each night."
Are there any other Broadway shows you’d like to do?
I love Rent. That would’ve been a lot of fun to be a part of. Wicked is another amazing show that really touched me when I saw it. I love that [Mandy Gonzalez] who originated the role of Nina is now playing Elphaba. Our [In the Heights performance] schedule is different from their show so I hope I get to see her in it soon.