When the knock came, Jordin Sparks was in her L.A. hotel room, getting ready to head over to the Beverly Hilton to meet up with Whitney Houston before Clive Davis' annual pre-Grammy party. Sparks had recently spent a couple of months working closely with the superstar on a remake of the 1976 musical drama Sparkle — which Houston executive produced and co-stars in — and she was looking forward to saying hello. "I didn't know her for very long," says the 2007 American Idol winner, "but it was an intense two months: 12 hours every day spending time with somebody. It was amazing to walk into work and then Whitney is sitting in her chair blasting gospel music and singing. I'm thinking to myself, 'People would give their right arm to just hear some of this. And it's happening every day.' She was really, really great."

Sparks answered the door. It was her publicist, and the news was grim. "She said, 'Whitney's gone,' Sparks recalls. "I said, 'What do you mean? She's not going to the party?' She said, 'No, she passed.' It was like a movie when you see somebody and they're just shocked and can't move. I literally couldn't say anything. I couldn't feel anything. It was a complete shock. I was just holed up in my hotel room for a few days after that."

Sparkle hits theaters on Aug. 17, and Sparks is now gearing up to promote the film without the late singer, who spent more than a decade trying to get the film made. "It was definitely her baby," says Sparks. "You could see the pride on her face when we wrapped. She was so excited that this was finally happening. Even before she passed I wanted to be able to represent this movie in a way that would honor her and respect her, because she worked so hard on it.With her passing, it's definitely been a lot more pressure. We'll see how it goes. I'm sure there will be interviews where it will hit me and I might get emotional, and there's going to be other interviews where I reminisce about how happy and excited she was. I'm really proud of the film. I can't wait for people to see it."

For more on Sparkle, check out our Summer Movie Preview, on stands April 13.

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