Since releasing her sophomore full-length album, Battlefield, in July 2009, the Valley's own Jordin Sparks has kept a relatively low profile. Opening for the Jonas Brothers here, a Haiti benefit single there. Nothing that approached the publicity blitz of her American Idol triumph three years ago.
Well, the beaming 20-year-old is back in the spotlight, finally, having embarked on a three-month North American tour in support of Battlefield. Hopefully, the tour will help resolve an issue that's fascinated her fans since she wowed Simon and company with "Heartbreaker."
That issue? What's up with the purity ring?
Or the promise ring, if you prefer. Whatever the name, it's that unassuming symbol of moral rectitude on Sparks' left hand that she started wearing when she was 13 years old. The one that tells her family (and, now, the rest of the world) that she will absolutely, positively not have sex until she's married.
Of course, Sparks started wearing the ring long before she became a world-famous star, surrounded by beautiful, expressive men and the means to support herself irrespective of marriage. One imagines the thing must feel pretty constrictive by now.
So will the unmarried Sparks continue to wear it, even as our collective credulity vanishes with every tick of her biological clock? Hard to say, but if it does disappear one day, here's a betting sheet of potential culprits.
Steph Jones: Any serious-minded discussion of Sparks' deflowering must begin with Jones, a 27-year-old ex-model whom she met through former Idol rival Blake Lewis. Freckled, cappuccino-toned, and dashing in the Lenny Kravitz/Maxwell mold, Jones endorses the same clean, faith-based lifestyle as Sparks. However, unlike the virginal singer, he once did a 25-month stretch in French prison on drug charges (all spurious and unfounded, naturally). Sparks and Jones were dating as recently as last May, when she told People that she was thinking of going "further" with the relationship, but Jones seemed to vanish from the Jordinverse when he was photographed in Hollywood with an unidentified woman the following month. In any case, the affair did no favors for his burgeoning career as a neo-soul singer-songwriter; as of last week, his self-produced album, Mr. Ordinary, was still lacking a distributor. Impurity odds: 5/2
Blake Lewis: America would love to see Sparks get busy with her Idol runner-up; they had such a winning rapport and looked so cute making kissy-face and all that. And, yes, a Sparks-Lewis coupling would deliver a much-needed injection of B12 to the beatboxer's musical career — his sophomore album, Heartbreak on Vinyl (2008), was a commercial flop, peaking at number 135 on the Billboard 200. Sparks herself has fueled rumors of a collaboration, speculating that the duo could be "the next Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey." Hmm. Did Whitney and Mariah ever bang? Impurity odds: 15/1
Chris Brown: Sparks recorded her 2008 hit single "No Air" with the disgraced R&B crooner long before he channeled Ike Turner in Hancock Park, but let's not count them out as potential impurity partners. Indeed, Brown may represent precisely the kind of fallen-angel reclamation project that a powerfully virtuous personality like Sparks would seek out. Besides, can you imagine Brown trying to put the slap on a sturdy lass like Sparks? Not gonna happen. Impurity odds: 10/1
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Jesse McCartney: In terms of net opportunity, this Beiber-ish former boy-bander has had more chances to sip Sparks' virginal waters than just about anybody else on the planet. In 2008, the duo co-headlined a two-month tour, after which Sparks asked the baby-face R&B pop singer to "write some songs for her." Awwww, yeah. McCartney has told journalists that his next album will have a more "urban" sound than his previous efforts (read: sexier, more Al Green-ish). Could it be part of a fiendish plan to woo his old tour mate? Bow-chicka-wow-wow. Impurity odds: 8/1
Ryan Tedder: Though hardly a household name, the Oklahoma-born OneRepublic frontman has cultivated a strong behind-the-scenes reputation as a producer and songwriter. In fact, he wrote and produced the title track for Sparks' latest album. And he was raised by missionaries and attended Oral Roberts University. So you can see how he might fill a role for Sparks: the older, church-going type who could swoop in and smoothly slip off that ring in a bloodless coup d'état of the paternal command structure. Well, maybe not quite bloodless (nudge, nudge). Impurity odds: 18/1
Russell Brand: The most unlikely of all potential Sparks virtue-soilers and, therefore . . . the most intriguing? Sparks leapt into action when the louche British funnyman held up a silver ring at the 2008 MTV Music Video Awards and alleged that it was a trophy for relieving one of the Jonas Brothers (at the time, all promise-ring-wearing, self-declared virgins) of his virginity. "I just have one thing to say about promise rings," Sparks fired back later. "It's not bad to wear a promise ring, because not everybody — a guy or girl — wants to be a slut." Implying, in the best tradition of Bush-era Manichean thinking, that there's no middle ground. Oh, yes, we'll be watching that hand closely. Impurity odds: 50/1