Desert Heat

America's idol and a hoops star keep Phoenix's mercury rising

For basketball star Diana Taurasi, 2007 was a stellar year. The 6-foot guard for the Phoenix Mercury helped lead the franchise (and the city of Phoenix) to its first-ever basketball championship, toppling defending WNBA champion Detroit Shock on its home court in the final game of a best-of-five series. The Mercury made it onto the Wheaties box, Taurasi re-signed a half-million dollar deal to play in Russia during the WNBA off-season, and now she's got one of the most popular athlete blogs on sports site yardbarker.com (www.yardbarker.com/dianataurasi).

One of the reasons Taurasi's blog rocks is her candid banter about all sorts of things, but most often music — and the fact that she'll carry on conversations about music with her fans in the comments section.

Because Taurasi's bundled up and playing b-ball in the former Soviet Union right now, we'll refer you to some of her Yardbarker commentary on what rocked her world in '07:

Kanye West: (posted September 11): "So here we are, on the eve of 9/11 — still at war — and we're presented with one of the most important questions of our generation: Kanye or 50?

"Really. Kanye. Seriously. I'm buyin' that one and burnin' a copy for the car. Is there really a comparison? Fiddy? Are there recording studios at Shady Acres? For real, 'Stronger' is the jam of the summer. While you can question the sunglasses indoors, you can't fight Kanye's creativity. I won't venture to say lyrical genius (nobody is touching 'Pac in my book, most likely ever . . . in life), but the guy has undeniable talent. I like him. In the wasteland of what has become hip-hop (who can even listen to the radio anymore?), Kanye delivers."

Alicia Keys: (posted November 13): "The Alicia Keys/Ross Hogg reggae remix? What do you think? I didn't think it was possible to improve on the original, but this is the joint! In short, it's dope. I'm also not sure smoovely is a word, but I think it's tremendous and I plan to use it. Smoove it out on the laptop. If somebody figures out how to download the thing, holllerrr."

(posted November 19) "We left off at Alicia Keys. Did you hear her stage name was going to be Alicia Wild instead of Alicia Keys? Yeah. Good call on whoever told her to swap in Keys for the stripper surname. She's killing it right now, isn't she? Did you see the American Music Awards last night? If given the choice, I would have passed on that mess they had Beyoncé up there doing, but is it coincidence that Alicia had the reggae performance? I think not. She must have seen the massive response my blog got and decided to [go in] that direction. And who knew a unitard could be so fly. I suppose if you add Beanie Man to most anything, it's dope. If he performed at a Mercury game, I think I might dunk."

Arizona native Jordin Sparks has the distinction of being the youngest American Idol winner in the show's history. The 17-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 end up at the Seattle tryouts, where she sang Celine Dion's "Because You Loved Me." She made the Hollywood Round, and was ultimately crowned 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, 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" on the album), 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' iPod. "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."

Sparks says she spent most of her summer listening to the songs she was recording, but still managed to quickly name some stuff that 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."

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