'Idol' winner Sparks to perform in Ocala


Published: Saturday, January 10, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 9, 2009 at 10:36 p.m.

OCALA - It took five months of negotiations and schedule juggling, but 2007 "American Idol" champ and recent Grammy nominee Jordin Sparks has been booked to headline Ocala's second Kidfetti festival, according to the event's primary organizer.

"We are very excited about Jordin because she fits right into the whole Kidfetti concept. She's very family-oriented," said Laurie Menard, development director for The Centers and chairwoman of the committee that organizes the family event. In its debut last year, the event attracted more than 7,800 people despite a heavy storm the night before that soaked the grounds and nearly blew away some of the tents.

Kidfetti is a benefit for The Centers, which provides mental health care services.

This year, the outdoor event is slated for March 7 on property south of Ocala International Airport. Also on the bill are Nat and Alex Wolff of The Naked Brothers Band. Parents need not worry about the name here; the two real-life young brothers also star in a kids' TV show of the same name on Nickelodeon.

For parents, and perhaps grandparents, Nat and Alex are the sons of actress Polly Draper, who played the husky-voiced, perpetually single Ellen on the popular yuppie '80s TV drama "thirtysomething."

The boys have a major following, but to be sure, Sparks is the bill's crown jewel. Especially these days.

The fresh-faced Sparks nabbed a People's Choice Award earlier this month for "No Air," a duet with Chris Brown. The song also snagged a Grammy Award nomination in December. In November, she won an American Music Award for Favorite Adult Contemporary Artist.

"No Air" is the singer's hottest single, said Greg Ryan, program director for WKTK-FM of Gainesville/Ocala. Ryan said he considers the Sparks booking a very big deal for Ocala.

"It will be a huge deal," agreed 12-year-old Ocala resident Erica Wood, noting Ocala doesn't usually lure that many big stars to its stages. She and her twin sister, Hannah, said their favorite Sparks song is "No Air."

As Erica talked, her father, Chuck, chimed in. Erica then added: "My Dad wants you to know his favorite (Sparks) song is 'Tattoo.' "

Because Sparks won on the top-rated "American Idol," she enjoys much name recognition among several generations. While popular on adult-contemporary playlists, she also won a Teen Choice Award in August.

During last year's inaugural Kidfetti, Menard and crew booked four musical acts for the main stage, with headliner Drake Bell - a singer who also starred in a Nickelodeon kids' show, "Drake and Josh."

This year, Menard said, they are adding more games and athletic competitions for the day-long event. At least one popular act from last year is slated to return: the Striking Viking Story Pirates. This New York City-based literacy troupe will act out stories written by Marion County students.

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