The American Idol winner was a surprise guest for the high school students who came from all over the country to be inspired, encouraged and given tools to help make them successful. Sparks’ talk on Sunday at the Disney Dreamers Academy program capped a weekend filled with celebrities and those who have conquered great obstacles to be great — all of whom shared messages of how they landed in top positions.
The four-day program – which is in its fifth year – was put on by Disney in collaboration with Steve Harvey. The comedian brought out other famous friends, including Yolanda Adams, Regina Hall, BET’s Terrance J, Lamman Rucker, Sean Kingston and producer Will Packer.
At one point before she performed, Sparks opened the floor to the students for questions, and the first student picked asked her about working with the late Whitney Houston, who plays Sparks’ mother in the upcoming remake of Sparkle.
“It was the most incredible experience I’ve ever had,” she told the students. “It’s actually my first role in a movie, so going there was insane. I’d wake up every morning and I’d go get ready to do the scenes and here comes Whitney into the trailer and she’s singing and blasting gospel music and just singing along to it and I’m just sitting there going, ‘This is the best thing ever!‘ I grew up listening to her music, I sang her songs into a hairbrush, like, I love her movies; it was incredible to be able to be around her.”
Sparks continued, saying that Houston was a great mentor and walked Sparks through her first movie role much like Kevin Costner did for Houston in her first movie role in The Bodyguard.
“Kevin Costner was so sweet to her and was so kind and just really wanted to mentor her and give her an amazing experience on her first film. And I found out that she wanted to do the same for me because it was my first and it was something that I was really nervous about and she really did that,” she went on. “She was always making sure I was OK, always asking if I needed something. In serious scenes, if the camera was on me, … she’d be making faces at me trying to make me crack. And I was like, ‘I’m gonna get you for that!’ But she was really, really sweet and her music will definitely live on forever. I sing her songs constantly in my head all day. But she was an amazing woman.”
After Sparks entertained the kids, EBONY.com got a chance to speak with Sparks, and here’s what else she told us:
EBONY.com: Last time I saw you, you were having a Dougie dance contest on the set of the Sparkle. Who won?
Sparks: (Laughs) We were doing it up there and Whitney walked in and was like, ‘What is that?’ And I was like, ‘It’s called the Dougie!’ And we started doing it and she started doing it … I was not expecting her to join in with us, but it was so much fun. She was like that. She was just really down-to-earth and really cool. We had an amazing time. She was so funny. So funny.
EBONY.com: Back then you talked about realizing your dream of being an actress. The theme of this weekend is about teaching these kids to pursue their dreams. Your dream has come true, but is there great pressure on you now?
Sparks: It’s definitely been very crazy. I already knew that there was this huge pressure because it is obviously a remake of a favorite of a lot of people. And then Whitney was playing opposite me — and this amazing cast that I got to be a part of — and here I am, this first timer, coming in having to carry a lead role. It was just one of those things where I was just like, I must’ve done something right, because they picked me for this role, they chose me for this, so I’m gonna go and do it and hopefully it’ll be what they were looking for hopefully. Hopefully, it’ll be what they saw (in me initially). And I had such a good time. But like I said, Kevin Costner treated her very kindly and made her very comfortable on the set and she wanted to do that for me. And she did. She was always asking me if there was something I needed or if I felt comfortable. She was making faces at me if something was too serious. If I had a breakdown, she was right there and that was an amazing thing, because she didn’t have to do that. I mean, hello, it’s Whitney Houston! She’s incredible. She’s this amazing, amazing superstar and she became my friend and it was an amazing thing to be able to experience. But now, I definitely want to be able to promote this movie as best as I can, because it was her baby. She wanted this movie so bad and she looked so incredible in it and I just want to be able to promote it as well as I can and represent it the way she would want me to.
EBONY.com: And you weren’t too shabby, either. I saw you shoot a couple of scenes and your co-stars were very complimentary about the work you turned in. I know the film is still being cut right now, but have you heard any feedback on it from producers?
Sparks: I don’t even know. I haven’t even seen it yet. I want to see a cut. I’m, like, waiting for this edit to come around so I can see. Debra Martin-Chase got to see it, (and) she came up to me and she was like, ‘you have no idea what’s coming …’ And I was like, ‘OK! I don’t know how I feel about you saying that, but hey, I don’t know what’s coming next.’ I’m not prepared for it, but I’m ready to take it on, so we’ll see how it goes.
EBONY.com: Well what can you say is coming next. Are you thinking about new music? Or more focused on making more films?
Sparks: I’m trying to do new music, for sure, but it’s definitely one of those things where now with all of the promotion for the movie coming up, my mind is in all different places. But I’ve recorded a couple of songs. Hopefully I can get some good stuff out, but this soundtrack and the movie is really what I’m trying to focus on. And hopefully this movie will open up other doors for me to do some more acting or maybe another Broadway role will come up, but we’ll see. I’m just kind of like bracing myself.