JORDIN SPARKS
On a ferry to the Statue of Liberty at age 3 (above), "Jordin [now 17] was swinging on the rails, saying, 'Mommy, look!' every five seconds," recalls her mom, Jodi. "I'm sure she was singing. Her voice was very raspy and deep, even then."

CHRIS RICHARDSON
Long before the Justin Timberlake comparisons, "Chris was a big Boyz II Men and Vanilla Ice fan," says his dad, Danny. "He was very entertaining ... always dancing." Or mugging for his audience, whether showing off his loot as a preschooler in Colorado Springs (left) or playing soccer. "He'd fall down in the middle of the field and wait for his coaches to come out to him," says Dad. "He always liked to be the center of attention." Still, the Virginia native knows when to demur. "I was raised with that southern hospitality thing," says Richardson, 23.

HALEY SCARNATO
Scarnato (left) was already a serious gymnast by age 8. She practiced nearly three hours daily with her San Antonio squad before shoulder injuries ended her career seven years later. "Haley [now 24] had a beautiful handstand on the floor and balance beam," says her father, Tony. "She really enjoyed the competitions." The young athlete was also precise when it came to her coif. Says Dad: "She was really into her bangs—they had to be curled just so."

BLAKE LEWIS
Those slick dance moves evolved over decades of practice. "Blake was doing the moonwalk at 5 years old," says his mom, Dinah. He was making his own videos then, too. "I have a tape of me singing 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,'" says Lewis, 25 (with Santa in Seattle in 1984). He might have Mr. Claus to thank for his trademark vocal talent, beatboxing: "I always wanted to be a drummer [but] I never got any drums!"

LAKISHA JONES
"LaKisha [pictured at age 4] always wanted to perform and dress up as different characters," says her mother, Beverly Jefferson. "And she loved school." Though story time was a thrill, Jones wasn't keen on one classroom activity. "She never wanted to nap," says Mom. Jones, 27, still doesn't sleep much: Thanks to the time difference between L.A. and her native Michigan, Jones makes sure to call her daughter Brionne, 4, "at 3:30 every morning."

SANJAYA MALAKAR
Even at age 3 (above), Malakar, now 17, had musical tastes as eclectic as his Idol hairstyles. "He and his sister Shyamali ran around the house singing Sesame Street and Disney movie songs," says his mom, Jillian Blyth. Or, "he'd come out with some obscure classic song. As he was interested in those timeless genres of music, I often wondered if he was a reincarnation of Fred Astaire!"

MELINDA DOOLITTLE
Would you believe this vocal powerhouse once had something in common with Milli Vanilli? "People would let me in choirs but ask me to lip-synch!" says the singer, 29 (above, in a childhood portrait). "I was actually tone deaf until after seventh grade. I had charisma, but they didn't want me to sing out loud." All that changed, she says, with divine intervention: "I just prayed. It keeps me humble because I know that me without God is just tone deaf!"

GINA GLOCKSEN
"Gina was a fish," says her mom, Nancy, of her 3-year-old daughter (left, ready for a dip at her aunt's Frankfurt, Ill., house). "I could never get her out of the pool. That was the last time she ever wore floaties." Indeed, Glocksen, 22, was all about playing grown-up. "I'm the youngest of three girls and I lived how my sisters did," she says. "When I was 5, they were going on dates and wearing makeup. I was learning from them."

CHRIS SLIGH
As a kid, 28-year-old Sligh (right, at age 2) composed his own soundtracks. "Everything he did, he accompanied with his own background music: songs he knew, car noises, plane noises," says his mother, Susan. He was such a noisy kid that his grandmother likely had no trouble locating him in her tub during a game of hide-and-seek in Springfield, Tenn. Says Mom: "The only time he was ever quiet was when he was sleeping."

STEPHANIE EDWARDS
When Edwards posed for this portrait at age 4, "the [Sears] photographer said she looked just like an angel," recalls her mom, Dewanda. "She wanted to be friends with everyone." That is, unless they made a certain request. "I used to cry if people asked me to sing," says Edwards, 19. "I grew out of that."

PHIL STACEY
If Stacey, 29, gets one of those "It was pitchy, dawg" reviews from Randy Jackson, it's not for lack of experience. When Stacey was an infant, recalls his father, Gary, "I would hum a note and Phil would hum the same note along with me. He was [matching] various pitches long before he could talk." By elementary school in Hamilton, Ohio, the future U.S. naval officer (in a second-grade photo, above) was playing the trumpet and by middle school, he was in a music club called—appropriately enough—the Fairfield Patriots.

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