By Allison Babka
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Arizona native Jordin Sparks has the distinction of being the youngest American Idol winner in the show's history. The seventeen-year-old Glendale resident — whose father, Phillippi Sparks, played for the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys — was sent home after her initial audition in Los Angeles, but bounced back to win a second audition in Arizona and ended up at the Seattle tryouts, where she sang Celine Dion's "Because You Loved Me." She made the Hollywood Round, and became the sixth winner of American Idol on May 23.
Since winning, the energetic and talkative teenager has been busy. First, she traversed the States from July through September as part of the "American Idols LIVE! Tour," then she headed straight into the studio to record songs for her eponymous debut, which was released November 20 on Jive Records. The album boasts creative input from the likes of Robbie Nevil, Chris Brown (who sings a duet with Sparks called "No Air"), and producers Eman (Backstreet Boys, Celine Dion) and Sam Watters (Jessica Simpson). The record runs the gamut from pop to rock to R&B, much like Sparks' own collection.
"If you see my iPod, it's the craziest mix of stuff," she says. "I like post-hardcore, country, rock, hip-hop, '80s music. I'm all over the place."
Although the Idol says she spent most of her summer listening to the songs she was recording, she still manages to name some things she's had in heavy rotation this year.
Rihanna: I love her song "I Hate that I Love You," the one she does with Ne-Yo. The first time I heard that song, I knew it was going to be a hit. I have it on repeat on my iPod. It keeps growing on me and I never get tired of it. I like the way their voices blend together."
Chris Brown: I haven't heard his new CD [Exclusive], but two years ago, when his first CD came out, all I wanted for Christmas and my birthday was his album. I'd love to tour with him. It would open me up to his R&B audience, and it would open him up to my pop audience. We're both somewhere in the middle.
Plain White T's: I remember hearing "Hey There Delilah," and it was so simple — guitar, voice, and strings. [It shows] you don't have to make a complicated song to have a hit single.
Kanye West: Yeah, I listen to hip-hop. I hope my mom doesn't kill me [laughs]. I like Kanye West and 50 Cent, and I didn't take a side in that whole battle. But I did buy [West's] Graduation, so I guess I took a side. The album is in heavy rotation on my iPod. "Stronger" — that song is genius.
Post-hardcore and screamo: I like Silverstein, and a local band called Greeley Estates that 's doing really well. My favorite is a band called Dizmas. They're really good, and I love their music. They came and performed at my church [Calvary Community Church in Phoenix], and it was really funny, because people were like, "Are they screaming?" But I like post-hardcore because it's really cool for when you're angry. Anybody who can scream like that and not blow their voice out is amazing. It takes a lot of skill and practice to be able to do that. I can't do it.
Alicia Keys: I haven't heard all of her new album [As I Am] yet, but I like her new single ("No One"). Alicia Keys just amazes me. She plays piano like no other, she's got a great voice, and she writes her own songs.
The Kronos Quartet's founding member reveals his eclectic, worldly tastes.
San Francisco's world-renowned Kronos Quartet has charted an impressive course around the globe, commissioning more than 600 works — and releasing more than 40 records — with composers from China, Russia, Vietnam and Iraq since its inception more than 30 years ago. Founding member David Harrington cites an unusual source of inspiration for working with composers from other countries: American foreign policy. Whenever the U.S. gets into a conflict or war, Harrington says it always makes him want to find out about the other country's music. It's a way of connecting to and partnering with cultures that American politics tear apart. "We are trying to be a witness to some of the things that are happening," he explains. "Every concert we play is an attempt to find balance in a world that's very unbalanced."
This year, the string quartet released a recording of Icelandic act Sigur Rós' "Flugufrelsarinn"; performed with Tom Waits at Neil Young's Bridge School Benefit, and with the queen of Bollywood film soundtracks, Asha Bhosle, at WOMADelaide; and collaborated with Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche. Kronos also released music by Polish composer Henryk Górecki and recorded Terry Riley's quintet The Cusp of Magic with pipa virtuoso Wu Man for release in 2008, among other projects.
Harrington has an insatiable appetite for not just new music but the entire universe of sound. Over the course of our three-hour conversation, he gushes over everything from Swedish pop act Shout Out Louds (a recommendation from his daughter) and cellist Erik Friedlander to field recordings of underwater seals, Southwestern beetles and the singing dog teams of the Canadian north.