Jordin Sparks thought she was in the middle of a circus opening for the Jonas Brothers this summer.
Now, she’s hopped to another three-ring spectacle — “The Circus Starring: Britney Spears.”
“It just kind of came by a phone call,” says Sparks, the 19-year-old Season 6 “American Idol” champ, who was filming a video for “S.O.S. (Let the Music Play)” — the second single from her sophomore album “Battlfield” — when the Spears invitation came in.
“They had an opening and they were asking me if I’d like to go — and they needed an answer that day. And I was like, ‘OK, I’ll do it.’ So it came up by a fluke, I guess.”
But, Sparks adds, it was a welcome fluke.
“Oh, yeah — Britney’s been around since I was little, so she’s always been a part of pop culture to me,” notes Sparks. “So to be part of the huge spectacle that is the “Circus,” it’s really, really cool.”
Sparks isn’t the only one who feels that way, either.
Kristinia DeBarge — the daughter of James DeBarge of the ’80s Motown singing clan — is another of the “Circus” tour’s opening acts and also is pinching herself over her good fortune.
“It’s amazing,” says DeBarge, 19, whose first public performing was as part of the “Idol” spin-off “American Juniors.”
A protégé of Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds, she released her first album, “Exposed,” in July. “(Spears) has so many fans, so to be a part of this tour is unreal and amazing, and it’s a blessing. It’s a lot of props, a lot of energy, a lot of lights. You can tell people are having fun.”
Sparks and DeBarge do bring some excitement of their own to the tour as well — and it apparently needs it.
While Spears’ “Circus” was the top-drawing road show of the first half of the year, grossing $74.6 million in its first 48 shows, it’s been plagued by reports of soft sales for its current leg, evidenced by the Palace’s heavy promotion for this week’s show, even taking out ad space on the Pontiac Silverdome’s I-75 electronic message board to hype ticket sales.
So Spears — whose 2008 album “Circus” debuted at No. 1 and was certified platinum — and her team are certainly hoping the opening acts can put some bodies in the “Circus” seats.
Sparks’ career is young, but she does bring the “Idol” cache, a platinum 2007 debut and “Battlfield,” which debuted at No. 7 on the Billboard 200 in July and launched a Top 10 hit in the title track.
At the same time, Sparks acknowledges it’s a bit of a leap from the Jonas Brothers’ clean-cut pop shows to Spears’ tricked-out, skin-baring expositions.
“With the Jonas Brothers, it’s a lot younger of a crowd,” Sparks says. “They’re very, very excited. The place is packed before the concert starts. With Britney, people wait and they want to see her, so they come a little bit later.”
The Spears audience, Sparks note, is also “harder to please. They’re a little bit older and a little more mature.
So I can be a little more serious on stage, and I get to dance a lot more, which is really cool.
“I have to go out there and be, ‘OK, I want to make you one of my fans? What can I do to do that?’ So when they clap for me, I know they’re clapping because they like something. It’s exciting to be able to do that, because usually they’re just ... watching.”
For DeBarge, meanwhile, the Spears booking dovetails nicely with the title of “Exposed,” which came out in July and reached No. 23 on the Billboard charts. So far it’s spawned a Top 15 hit, “Goodbye” — “Britney told me her babies (sons Sean Preston and Jayden James, both with ex-husband Kevin Federline) love that song,” DeBarge says — while its successor, the Varsity Fanclub cover “Future Love,” is currently on the move.
“I feel like this (tour) is accomplishing my fan base. I’m building a fan base,” says DeBarge. “It’s accomplishing a lot of exposure for me. I’m really connecting with my audience, and people are getting to know me more and more.”
And while she respects Sparks and her success, DeBarge says that after a less-than-satisfying experience with “American Juniors” she was just as happy not to take the “Idol” route herself.
“At one point, my mom and I discussed me trying out for ‘American Idol’ if I hadn’t found a producer to work with by the age of 16,” DeBarge recalls. “I was over the whole reality TV show thing, but (music) was something I wanted to do so badly, I would do whatever it takes.
“Thank God I didn’t have to, but it worked out OK for Jordin, I think. We each got here our own way.”
The Circus Starring: Britney Spears plays at 8 p.m. Tuesday (Sept. 8) at the Palace, Lapeer Road at I-75, Auburn Hills. Jordin Sparks and Kristinia DeBarge open. Tickets are $128 general admission floor and $39.50-$128 reserved. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.
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