PHOENIX - At some point, "American Idol" producers must have shaken their heads, wondering how they passed over Jordin Sparks, whose soulful singing and girl-next-door likeability have gained fans week after week.
Last summer, the Glendale, Ariz. native tried out for the show in Los Angeles and didn't even make it past the first round.
"I know she worked really hard to get in shape just to learn how to perform a little bit more," said Kris Siegrest, Sparks' personal trainer and a longtime family friend. "Even when she went the first time, I was shocked she didn't make it."
But since impressing the judges a few months later with "Because You Loved Me," the 17-year-old now finds herself one of nine remaining "Idol" hopefuls.
The competition to stay continues Tuesday night as the contestants receive coaching from singer Tony Bennett before performing on stage.
Whatever the outcome, the teen will undoubtedly come away with more than enough publicity to launch a singing career. And as one of the top 10 contestants, she already inherits a spot on an "American Idol" summer tour.
The daughter of retired NFL player Phillippi Sparks, a former cornerback for the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants, Sparks spent most of her childhood in Glendale. Singing was a passion from the beginning. Churchgoers and family were usually her only audience.
Bobb Cooper, artistic director at Valley Youth Theatre in Phoenix, remembers a 13-year-old Sparks only being cast in ensemble roles like a poppy in "The Wiz."
"I was watching last Tuesday night and thought 'where the hell did she get that voice?' It was amazing," Cooper said. "She really has matured at gaining control of her voice. She gets better every week."
Siegrest said having a father in the NFL should help Sparks deal with her growing fame. At an early age, she experienced what it was like being in the public eye.
"There's some responsibility that comes along with that, and I think she's very aware of it," Siegrest said.
Pandy Raye, a guitarist for Phoenix country band Rondavous who had been teaching Sparks to play the guitar, said the teen's family would make sure she stayed role-model material.
"Every decision they make, they really take a lot of time to see 'OK, how is this going to affect her?' She's just so grounded," Raye said.
During the last year, Sparks was home schooled to focus on music. In September 2006, she snagged the title "Arizona Idol," a competition put on by the local FOX affiliate, and the second chance to audition for the show.
Glendale, located just northwest of Phoenix, has been throwing support behind Sparks with elaborate, outdoor "American Idol" viewing parties at Westgate City Center, an upscale shopping complex.
Since March 20, the city of about 245,000 has seen hundreds of people from all over the state turn out to watch Sparks on two 14-foot jumbotron TVs. The city also has been distributing free "Glendale supports Jordin" posters at its visitor center.
The parties will continue as long as Sparks keeps progressing, a spokesman for Westgate said.
Leeann Corless, a 34-year-old single mom, took her 10-year-old son along with a sign reading "Jordin sparkles" to a viewing party. She said besides being talented, Sparks has a likeability.
"I just feel that she can be a big mentor for kids," Corless said. "From what I understand she's done a lot of community stuff ... she seems really loving and caring."
Robin Miller, 47, plans to attend a viewing party despite the four-hour drive from her Pinetop Hills home to Glendale.
"Any time you have a local person doing something so fantastic, and they happen to be a good person and a nice person, that's even better," Miller said.
The cheerful disposition is no act, according to Siegrest.
"What you see when she speaks and is giddy and kind of funny and smiling all the time, that's Jordin," Siegrest said. "What you're seeing is really her. She's fun and not afraid to look funny."