Jordin Sparks Isn’t Only ‘American Idol’ Hopeful With Fame In The Family

Past contestants grew up with Grammy-winning artists, hall-of-fame athletes.

As the “American Idol” judges have reminded viewers once or twice, Jordin Sparks is only 17 years old. Throughout the season, everyone — voters included — has been impressed with the teen’s talent and poise.

So how does she do it? Well, Sparks is no stranger to the spotlight. Her dad, Phillippi Sparks, spent nine seasons in the NFL as a cornerback for the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys. Growing up, Jordin took pictures with her family for national magazines and saw fans swarm her dad for autographs.

“He actually told me the other day that when he would sign autographs, I would just be watching so intently,” Jordin said about her dad. “He said it was really weird, because he was watching me [sign autographs] the other day, and now it’s all turned around.”

It’s a given that you have to have a good voice to make it on “Idol,” but you also have to be able to work a stage, appeal to fans and hold your own against the judges. Jordin might lack the singing experience of her 20-something competitors, but she certainly has a leg up in the fame department.

And Jordin isn’t the first “Idol” hopeful to come from well-known lineage. We caught up with past contestants who also have the drive for fame in their genes.

Paris Bennett
Famous Family Members: Mom Jamecia Venzett Bennett and grandma Ann Nesby were in the gospel/R&B group Sounds of Blackness.

How It Helped: Randy Jackson flipped out when he saw Paris’ Grammy-winning grandma at the teen’s first audition, calling Nesby “one of the greatest singers in the known world.” The judges were also pretty impressed with Paris: She finished fifth last season. And, as Paris told MTV News, she wouldn’t have even been on the show if it weren’t for Nesby. “The way I auditioned for ’American Idol’ was because I made a deal with my grandparents,” she said. “If I auditioned and I made it, I would continue to sing. If I didn’t make it, then I would go on and do whatever else.”

She also said it has helped to have people familiar with the industry at her side as she prepped her debut album, Princess P, which dropped May 8 (see “Idols Now: Paris Bennett Debut Includes Rapper … Kevin Covais?” ). “It’s helped a lot as far as being in this music business now, I’d definitely say that,” Paris said of her mom and grandma’s expertise. “We’re kind of on our own once we [leave ’Idol’].”

Nikko Smith
Famous Family Member: Dad Ozzie Smith was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2002 for his 18 years on the field.

How It Helped: Paula Abdul dubbed Nikko “The Comeback Kid” in season four after he got a second chance on the “Idol” stage. When early front-runner Mario Vazquez dropped out of the competition unexpectedly (see “Mario Vazquez Quits ’Idol’ — ’It Wasn’t Right For Me’ “ ), producers wanted Nikko back — and he lasted another four weeks on the show (see “Nikko Smith Voted Off ’American Idol’ … Again” ).

Unlike other contestants who followed in their famous relatives’ footsteps, Nikko had no plans to join Dad on the diamond. “For me, it was more of trying to do my own thing and trying to stay away from the whole baseball thing and do what I love doing,” the R&B crooner said. Now, Nikko is shopping his debut to labels and collecting a crew of artists for his independent label (see ” ’Idol’ Comeback Kid Nikko Smith Going ’Buck Wild’ On New Album” ).

Nikko does admit that his dad’s renown did put him in a different league. “Being around my dad and him being in the spotlight kind of prepares you and you have an outlook on things that’s a little bit different because you’ve been around celebrities and people in the spotlight,” he said. “I guess [Jordin and I] had a better idea of how to handle ourselves in different situations that other people might not have had.”

Sundance Head
Famous Family Member: Dad Roy Head reached high on the pop and R&B charts in 1965 with the song “Treat Her Right.”

How It Helped: Sundance wowed the judges with his soulful take on the blues song “Stormy Monday” at his first audition but wound up falling victim to season six’s Sanjaya effect, just missing the top-12 cut (see “Antonella, Other ’Idol’ Castoffs Say They’re Shocked To Be Heading Home” ). And if it weren’t for his dad’s advice, Sundance might not have even made it past the Hollywood round, where he botched the words to his song just before the final cut.

“My dad had told me, ’Son, if you get up and you can’t remember your lyrics, whatever you do, don’t stop singing. The words that come out might be the ones you were supposed to be singing,’ ” Sundance told MTV News, laughing.

But Sundance doesn’t think any of his dad’s advice could have prepared him for the “Idol” semifinals. “Once you get up on that stage, you’re getting lessons from the whole crew of ’American Idol,’ ” he said. “I learned so much more being on that show than I did my whole life.”

Justin Guarini
Famous Family Member: Oscar-nominated actor and bona fide badass Samuel L. Jackson is the season-one runner-up’s second cousin by marriage.

How It Helped: OK, maybe that connection didn’t help him on “American Idol.”

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