Skip to main content

More than a squeak out of Jesse McCartney

By Denise Quan, CNN
Click to play
Jesse McCartney gets animated
  • Jesse McCartney is supplying the voice of Theodore in new "Chipmunks" movie
  • McCartney is also branching out musically, trying to shake teen image
  • When McCartney was younger, he wanted to be Elvis Presley
  • Jesse McCartney
  • Movies
  • Music

Los Angeles, California (CNN) -- Jesse McCartney was only 11 when he scored the role of Adam Chandler Jr. on "All My Children." Since then, his life has been anything but a soap opera -- just a steady stream of acting gigs and a growing career as a singer-songwriter.

At 22, he's eager to make that leap from child star (and teen favorite) to all-around entertainer. McCartney is currently on the big screen -- or at least his voice is -- as Theodore, the youngest animated sibling in "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel." He's also moving his music in a more R&B direction.

We dropped in on the New York native during a recording session at Fox Studios in Los Angeles. The following is an edited version of the interview.

CNN: What's it like to be part of the "Alvin and the Chipmunks" franchise?

Jesse McCartney: The Chipmunks have been around since my parents, and even before then. Sitting on the couch at 10 years old, eating cereal and watching the Chipmunks as a kid, being one of my favorite cartoons -- it's a little strange.

CNN: Have you had to work with a vocal coach to tap into the Chipmunk voice?

McCartney: I have a naturally low speaking voice, so when I get there, he warms me up a little. We go through some drills because Theodore has the highest voice of all three of the Chipmunks.

CNN: Do they record your voice in real time, and then speed it up?

McCartney: You have to do it slower than real time and pitch your voice up. I talk really slowly with the same intensity of a normal conversation, and that's sort of what they take and then they speed it up.

It's a really fine line. You either sound like a Chipmunk or an alien. You do the same line 50 times until you get it right.

CNN: For the past couple of years, you've been concentrating on your music career. Last May, you received ASCAP's "Song of the Year" award for "Bleeding Love," the tune you co-wrote for Leona Lewis. Do you ever think, "I shouldn't have given that song away?"

McCartney: Maybe at first. I wrote it with [OneRepublic's] Ryan [Tedder] ... and I remember thinking, "Ryan, this is something special. This is not something that should be tucked away in somebody's files for five months," which is what it did. But he finally brought it to Simon Cowell (Lewis' mentor), and Simon said, "Look, this needs a big, diva-ish voice" -- and I always thought that. ...

Simon pitched me on Leona Lewis, and I had never heard of her. She had just come off [Britain's talent show] "The X Factor," and it was a perfect match. She brought it to a whole other level with those vocals.

CNN: You seem committed to carving out a career in R&B. A little blue-eyed soul, like Justin Timberlake or Robin Thicke?

McCartney: I think I was 4 years old, pulling out records from my parents' record collection, and I see this picture of this white guy -- and I had never heard of soul come out of a white person like this before. It was Elvis Presley. I just remember thinking, "One day, I want to be Elvis Presley."

CNN: Your mom, Ginger, is here today. She's also your manager?

McCartney: Yeah. My mom has made many sacrifices. I grew up in New York. She pretty much quit her job to make it happen for me. Fifteen years later, we're still working together. She's managing my film and TV career. Of course we have our rough spots -- when you're family, you have to -- but it's nice to know that you have someone who is going to have your back.

CNN: Is it hard to trust people in this town?

McCartney: When you're a "product" for a lot of people, they're only really after one thing, and so it's hard to completely let down your guard.

CNN: What do you do to keep your head on straight?

McCartney: I get smacked around a bunch by my friends. (Chuckles) ... I grew up with a family that is always just so real, and they have great morals and principles -- and they taught me all of that before I went out on my own and left the nest. I've been on my own for a couple of years.

CNN: Didn't I read a couple of years ago that cops were called to your house? Something about a loud party?

McCartney: On more than one occasion! I've since moved, but a couple of years ago, I was in an area of houses stacked on top of each other, and you couldn't make a peep outside. I like to listen to things loud -- music, TV -- and I had my doors open, and I was just hanging out watching ESPN, and I hear "knock, knock, knock" at the door, and the cops go, "What's going on here?" I was like, "I don't know. I'm watching the football game. You wanna come hang out?"