"I want people to say, 'Wait, that's Jordin?!'"
Credit: Rich Polk/Getty Images for iHeartMedia

It’s been six years since Jordin Sparks’ last full-length but the American Idol winner is adamant Right Here, Right Now—which drops Aug. 21—isn’t a comeback album.”You know, you put out an album, you do promo, you go on tour. I was working the whole time!”, Sparks, 25, tells EW, minutes before going on vocal rest. “And I was other places—doing soundtracks to movies and [the film] Sparkle, and all those things. But I started working on this album pretty much right after Battlefield, so it’s been for a very long time. It molded and changed along the way.”

One of those changes came after Sparks spent time on her first movie set, Sparkle.”Right after that, I felt like I finally knew what I wanted to do musically. I was really inspired by R&B—and I grew up in the ’90s listening to Mariah, Whitney, Boys II Men, Babyface, the best of the genre. You’ll hear a lot of that on the album.” Something else you’ll hear? A delightful roster of guest stars like B.o.B, J-Doe, Shaggy, Elijah Blake, and 2 Chainz.

As for the surprise fans might experience as she weaves through island-y tunes like “Casual Love,” and sexy rap duet “Work From Home”, she welcomes it.”I want people to say, ‘Wait, that’s Jordin?! I grew up listening to a very wide range of music and I feel like that’s made me who I am. So the first album was a lot more pop, the second album a lot more rock influence, and this album has a lot more R&B, reggae, and hip-hop.”

Particular highlights include the social media conscious relationship tune “Double Tab”, the late-’80-Mariah-inspired title track, and the girl-power anthem, “It Ain’t You,” which she says came from hearing too many songs on the radio written from the male perspective. “I was in my car, blasting music, singing along to the radio and I was sitting at the stoplight and it just hit me, ‘Wait a minute, all these guys are talking about me!’ About girls not being cool! I realized we needed something from the girl’s perspective. And then it turned out [DJ] Mustard happened to have a beat and Ty Dolla $ign had written some verses, so we worked on it.”

And if you thought there were limits to Sparks’ agility, she’s about to conquer another uncharted musical landscape: country. “I love country music,” she says. “One day I will do a country album—I will. The timing will just have to be right.”

For now, though, she’s featured on Thomas Rhett’s upcoming album Tangled Up. Of the invitation to duet she says, “When Thomas and his team called and asked me to be a part of it I was so excited. The song itself is beautiful. It’s called ‘Playing With Fire’ and it’s a ballad that’s just so great.” She recorded her parts with Rhett in the studio in Nashville, and received a surprise visitor during the session. “Reba [McIntyre] walked in when I was doing my part! She listened to it—that was actually pretty nerve-wrecking, having someone like her listen to your song when it isn’t even finished—but she loved it. I can’t wait for people to hear it.”