Sunday, January 24, 2010

Song for the Day: Jordin Sparks "One Step at a Time"

With the new season of American Idol is kicking off, I find myself more conflicted about the show than I've ever been over the previous eight seasons of the ratings (and pop music) juggernaut. I'll likely elucidate on this inner conflict on another occasion (or, more likely, multiple other occasions), but suffice it to say my relationship with Simon Fuller's Simon Cowell-starring reality singing competition is, and always has been, strained at best. But I thought that something of a white flag on my part might be in order as the three brave souls named Simon (bless him), Kara (songwriter extraordinaire...just not for American Idol) and Randy (who? Oh yeah, him, dawg) and their weekly celebrity guesting fourth (so far we've had Posh Spice, Shania Twain, and Kristin Chenoweth, warming the seat Ellen Degeneres will take over from recently departed original judge Paula Abdul beginning Hollywood week) slog through what I imagine is a hideous amount of aural punishment to try and weed out the two dozen or so finalists who will spend the next several months screeching their tits/balls off to try and earn the 2,000 text messages their 12 year old fan clubs can manage to send in within the time allotment after the "live" shows in hopes of ultimately "winning" a million dollar record contract, a guaranteed #1 single (for a week), and then obscurity while the runners-up win all the Grammys and sell all the albums. *Whew*

That said, there have been a marginal number of actually talented vocalists (and even a couple - dare I say - performers!) to emerge from the depth of this cesspool of pre-teen screaming and general pop ickiness. Kelly Clarkson, winner of the inaugural season, has grown into a legitimate pop star in her own right; Jennifer Hudson (who came in seventh in the third season) won over viewers, critics and Academy voters with her showstopping role in the film version of Dreamgirls, winning an Oscar (among many other awards) in the process; Fantasia Barrino, who won that third season, has gone on to Broadway with a critically supported debut in The Color Purple; Carrie Underwood, season four champ, is easily the Kelly Clarkson of country music, with as much popularity and legitimacy in her own genre; Adam Lambert, season eight runner-up, covered every magazine and has kept people talking to this day about his raunchy (if tonally challenged) performance at the 2009 American Music Awards.

Then there's season six winner Jordin Sparks. The youngest Idol winner so far (17 when crowned), the Arizona native has two top ten albums (one has gone 2x Platinum), three top ten singles, an AMA and a Grammy nod to her name, so she's done all right for herself. There are a number of things I don't love about her: her schmaltzy duet with pre-Rihanna incident Chris Brown ("No Air," the Grammy-nommed track); uncanny yet unacknowledged similarities between the lead single to her sophomore album Battlefield to a certain Pat Benatar song; the fact she was on American Idol; her little anti-slut comment at the 2009 VMAs; and so forth. But there has been one time the young Ms. Sparks has had my full attention, and that is with this track, a single from her self-titled debut album that made minor waves but failed to crack the top 10 (topping out at 17). The use of close harmony, a solid-sounding lead vocal by a then-still young Sparks, and the innocent positivity make up for the utter saccharine quality of the lyrics, in my eyes, at least.

"One Step at a Time"
Jordin Sparks
(Jive Records, 2008)

Trivia: Despite, as I mentioned, the song not making the top ten on the Billboard Hot 100, when it peaked at number 17 in August of 2008 Sparks became the first Idol contestant to have her first four singles crack the top twenty on said chart (Idol single "This Is My Now" topped out at number 15, followed by "Tattoo" at number 8, then  "No Air" at number 3). "One Step At a Time" did reach a peak of number 16 on the UK charts despite never being physically released there. The video, which did reach the top spot on VH1's weekly Top 20 Video Countdown (now the de facto replacement for the late MTV video countdown "Total Request Live"), features a cameo by High School Musical co-star Corbin Bleu.

Check out Jordin Sparks' well-reviewed sophomore album Battlefield.

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