Will Jordin Sparks Be the Next Carrie Underwood?

While her peers are just beginning to plan for their futures, 17-year-old Jordin Sparks has already begun living her future.

The youngest winner in the history of the popular talent show "American Idol" last May, Sparks grabbed the most votes, thanks to her smooth vocals, her sweet charm and youthful exuberance.

Now with her debut album set to be released Nov. 20 and its first single, "Tattoo," sitting at No. 18 after seven weeks on the Billboard charts, the buzz around Sparks has grown.

The singer not only belts out melodies on her self-titled album, she also co-wrote several songs on the record, including "Freeze" and two others that will be available on the album's digital deluxe version.

Her popularity has grown so strong that her hometown of Glendale, Ariz., has honored her with a special collectible postmark.

She says lessons learned from her former NFL football star father, Phillippi Sparks, and her mother, a real estate agent, have helped her cope with her celebrity status.

"My family was always very loving, very grounded," Sparks says on her Web site, www.jordinsparks.com. "My dad kept us calm no matter what was happening with his career, and my mom made me fiercely independent. She was big on teaching us responsibility and fending for ourselves. I think I understood early the importance of setting goals and being prepared to meet them."

Long-Term 'Idol' Success

But is Sparks poised to become another success story for the "Idol" franchise? Some fans of the show believe that fellow contestant Melinda Doolittle actually deserved to win the talent competition.

"I said Melinda should've won," judge Simon Cowell told "Good Morning America" last May after Sparks' win. "She tried the hardest, was consistently the best, and had the best voice."

Regardless of the dispute, the Fox franchise is a powerhouse for the featured singers, according to one professor.

"Clearly this 'American Idol' engine has proved to be a powerful one," said Syracuse University television and popular culture professor Robert Thompson. "Overall, the people who have won -- and I think that their success in recording -- shows this works really well."

Thompson said winners couldn't ask for a better platform from which to launch their careers than "Idol."

"The promotion for the American people happens before they even do the album," he said. "[But] just because you've been on 'American Idol' doesn't guarantee you'll go platinum. It certainly helps."

Two of the talent show's alums cleaned up at the American Music Awards Sunday night. Carrie Underwood, who was season four's winner, has become country music's undisputed princess. And rocker Chris Daughtry, who placed fourth during "Idol's" fifth season, and his bandmates collected trophies for favorite pop-rock album, breakthrough artist and adult contemporary artist.

"We're really seeing them penetrate every last nook and cranny of the musical establishment," said Ken Barnes, USA Today music editor.

Barnes said Daughtry's penetration of the rock genre was the final standout for the show.

"I think it's an established force. The number of successes has reached a point where everyone pays a lot of attention to it, even when they didn't before," Barnes said.

Even the show's losers can be big winners, as Daughtry's career has proved, .

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