It says something that at age 21, Jesse McCartney was asked to sit on a Career Day panel during the Grammy Awards week festivities in Los Angeles.
Even at this young age, McCartney is already a show biz veteran, having enjoyed a run on a soap opera (“All My Children”), a hit TV show (the WB’s “Summerland”) and a music career that includes a tenure in group Dream Street and a platinum solo debut album, “Beautiful Soul.” He’s also riding a new single — a remix of “How Do You Sleep?,” a track from his third album “Departure,” with rapper Ludacris guesting.
And he co-wrote British singer Leona Lewis’ Grammynominated hit “Bleeding Love.”
“I’ve been around the industry; I’ve been in it for awhile now,” says McCartney. “I’m been learning and am still learning all the ins and outs.
“I think when I go to something like (Career Day), I’m probably a little more accessible than some of the other people on (the panel) who are a bit older. The kids can talk to someone who’s pretty close to their age, too, and give them advice they can use now rather than waiting ‘til they’re older.”
One of the Westchester, N.Y.-born McCartney’s messages is dedication — and sacrifice. For him this year that means bowing out of a role as Zuko in M. Night Shyamalan’s big screen adaptation of Nickelodeon’s “The Last Airbender.” The part is being taken by “Slumdog Millionaire” star Dev Patel.
“Unfortunately we just couldn’t do it,” McCartney says. “It was really biting into this (music) tour we had planned for months. We really tried to make it work with Night and with everyone over at Paramount; they’ve been amazing throughout the whole thing.”
But, McCartney adds, “I’m not too worried. I think there’s plenty of time for my film career, still. There’ll be other films in the future that will be perfect and, hopefully, better timing.”
The silver lining, of course, is that means McCartney’s music career is going well enough to give up a plum opportunity like that. “I’ve had so much momentum I just didn’t want to stop it in its tracks,” he explains. Credit for that goes to the ninemonth-old “Departure,” on which McCartney steps away from the polished pop of his previous albums and flexes more of his R&B influences, working with producers such as Tricky Stewart, The Dream, Sean Garrett and J.R. Rotem.
“For me, it was Michael Jackson and Prince and Madonna and all the extreme artists that made a statement in pop culture — Stevie Wonder, even,” McCartney explains. “I grew up with Aretha (Franklin).
“My parents are to blame for most of it, because they listened to a lot of that music and I was always listening to their albums. I grew up listening to a lot of soulful artists, and it was sort of ingrained to me at a young age that that was cool music.”
Adding Ludacris to “How Do You Sleep?,” the last song recorded for “Departure,” was producer Garrett’s idea, according to McCartney. “I’m a huge fan of Luda,” he notes. “He’s super innovative, just really funny and always brings fresh lyrics to the table.”
McCartney says the two artists “got along great” and didn’t experience any culture shock in having a cutting-edge rapper join forces with a teen heartthrob.
“Obviously we have different styles,” he acknowledges, “but we both feel like we’re creative forces, and more than anything, we feel it’s an honest match-up. It wasn’t contrived.”
The collaboration has put some steam behind “Departure,” which has sold about 260,000 copies so far and yielded two previous singles, “Leavin” and “It’s Over.” McCartney is taking advantage of the new a ejuvena the album by releasing an expanded edition on April 7, with the “How Do You Sleep” remix and four other fresh songs, which McCartney says will even further display his penchant for R&B.
“I wanted something that was a step towards the next album but not too far from ‘Departure,’ “McCartney explains, “some sort of middle ground. There’s definitely more R&B ... coming out of me, I feel, in the last couple months. I’m really thinking the next album will be swinging even further in that direction.”
The success of “Bleeding Love” — which McCartney cut for “Departure” but ultimately felt “didn’t fit” the album — is yielding more writing invitations, too. McCartney is working on material for R&B singer Toni Braxton’s next album, and he’s been talking to 2007 American Idol champ Jordin Sparks, who he toured with last year, about writing for her sophomore effort as well.
“I feel like I’m really getting to stretch my legs now and do some interesting things and really grow a lot,” says McCartney, who on the acting front did take time to film an a multi-episode arc for ABC Family’s “Geek” and reprise his voice role as Theodore for “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel.”
“Going into (‘Departure’) I felt like I had a lot to prove, and I still have a long way to go. As long as I can keep moving forward and doing new things, I’m happy.”
Jesse McCartney performs Thursday (Feb. 19) at Clutch Cargo’s, 65 E.Huron St., Pontiac. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $21.50 in advance, $25 day of show. Call (248) 333-2362 or visit www.clutchcargos.com.
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