Two years ago, Jesse McCartney's song "Leavin'" (produced by Tricky and The Dream) was the most-played Top 40 single of 2008. Two weeks ago, MTV put McCartney's single "Shake" on its list of the top 25 songs of 2010 -- and the guy hadn't even put out an album in two years. His anticipated record "Have It All" (Amazon), on which the catchy single appears, is scheduled to be released early in 2011.
Earlier this month while on tour, he fielded a phone call from The Life. This is what the 23-year-old had to say about a Giants-Jets Super Bowl, his NASCAR national anthem faux pas and Rihanna.
The Life: In 2008, your song "Leavin'" put the G5 in everybody's lexicon. Now, Far East Movement has everybody feeling like a G6. What gives? Do you feel one-upped?
McCartney: > I'll tell you this, it's a great song, I love it, but I'm glad you asked because I'm gonna say something that might surprise some people -- there's no such thing as a G6. Google it. There's a G550, but there's no G6. But it doesn't matter; it's still a great song. [Editor's note: The G650 is scheduled to enter service in 2012.]
The Life: Set the record straight on one more thing. Your manager tells us that you are a Giants and Jets fan. I know you're from New York, but c'mon, it's got to be one or the other.
McCartney: No, no. He gave you some ill-information. [Laughs] I'm a Giants fan through and through. I am crazy about Eli Manning. I'm all about the Giants. What I said was that I'd love to see a Giants-Jets Super Bowl. That would make my life. I was talking to my dad about it; he said that if he could see that in his lifetime, he'd never need another football game. That would be a dream come true. So I'm always rooting for that dream to become a reality. I'm hoping I can take my dad to the perfect Super Bowl in Dallas this year.
The Life: It's a long shot, but you've got a chance.
McCartney: There is a chance. The Jets are a great team. I told you, I love my Eli Manning, but I think that [Mark] Sanchez is soon to be the next money-making face of the league as the veteran quarterbacks retire. He'll get his ring eventually, and he's off to an amazing start. Giants versus Jets Super Bowl. I'm telling you, that's all I want to see.
The Life: You've been on the road a lot lately. Do you ever get a Sunday to just sit around and watch football?
McCartney: I pray every day of my life that I have a few hours off on a Sunday where I can just sit around and watch the games. Even in the offseason, I'm thinking, "I wonder if this album is going to come out at a time where I can be home for like 16 weeks." I grew up in New York watching the game every Sunday with my dad. Now, living in Los Angeles, I try to keep the tradition alive. Sometimes I'll go pick up my brother so we can cook some burgers on the grill and hang out and watch together.
The Life: Do you ever get to spend a Sunday in a dive bar, or are those days long gone?
McCartney: Oh, no. Of course I do. I throw on a hat and go in there and sit down and get myself a beer. We did it like two weeks ago with my whole crew, while we were on the road, actually. My security, Bill, is a big Vikings guy. We were all out in a bar having a good time.
The Life: Do you get to go to many games?
McCartney: Yeah, I get to a fair amount. My dad and I did a New York doubleheader in October. We went to Giants [the new Meadowlands] stadium and watched them beat up on the Lions, and then, the next day, we went to the Yankees-Rangers game and watched the Yanks get their asses kicked in the playoffs. My dad framed both of the tickets, and he gave 'em to me. I thought that was pretty cool.
The Life: What's your earliest sports memory with your dad?
McCartney: I remember being like 5 years old and my dad took me to a Yankees-Mets game. My dad had me on his shoulders and taught me one of the most important lessons about sports. He said, "Jesse, just remember one thing, the Mets suck." And I just remember thinking, "Yeah! I'm a Yankees fan like my dad!" And that was like my first real sports bonding moment. He used to take me to the stadium all the time when I was a kid.
The Life: How do you like the new Yankee Stadium?
McCartney: Oh man. It's like Disneyland now. Seriously, I mean, you sit down and they bring you sushi to your seat. It's so crazy.
The Life: Like sushi makes watching Derek Jeter in pinstripes any better?
McCartney: Right? I'm so excited.
The Life: All right, here's the situation. MTV released its list of the top 25 songs of 2010 and you're on it, along with the other hottest musicians of the year. If those other 24 pop stars were free agents and you could acquire any five of them and sign them to six-year contracts, who do you negotiate with to assemble your ultimate musical team for the future?
McCartney: Ooh, man. That's a good one. I would go with Usher, definitely, because Usher is back and he has proven that he can do it time and time again. He's a veteran, and I think he has another three, four, five years in him. I'd hold onto Gaga as well. She is going to come back with a strong record and she's got the talent. I'd go with Drake; I think Drake is a monster of the rhythmic game and the ladies love him, and he's a good face for the team. Let's see. I'd take Katy Perry, yeah, and I would take Rihanna, too. Three girls, two guys and I'll be the captain. We're good to go.
The Life: How was life on the team of "Alvin and the Chipmunks" with Jason Lee, Justin Long and the rest of the gang?
McCartney: It's been so much fun working on those movies. I loved "Alvin and the Chipmunks" when I was a kid and I'm actually really fascinated with animation, so when I got that call from Fox to read for Theodore, I was super excited. It's funny; my speaking voice is actually pretty low, it's a low register, and Theodore is the highest of the three, so it wasn't easy. I had to do Theodore right. I didn't want to mess that up for anyone. Everyone knows what Theodore is supposed to sound like, so I had to really squeeze the vocal chords and do him justice. We're about to start the third movie at the end of January, so we'll release another one in 2011.
The Life: As we move into a fresh new year, we've got to ask you about something in your past that hopefully we can all laugh about and move on. Let's talk the NASCAR national anthem blooper at Fontana, Calif., in 2009.
McCartney: Oh, man. Well, it was pretty horrifying, I have to say. In all my years of singing, that moment is about the worst. For whatever reason, I was very nervous that day. I don't know what it was. The NASCAR crowd, for one thing, I had never performed in front of before, and they are very dedicated fans and they are generally a bunch of very patriotic, die-hard Americans.
The Life: And you slipped up on their theme song.
McCartney: Yeah, the whole situation just led to an overwhelming feeling of anxiety. I got up there, and even though I have sung the national anthem at over 20 sporting events -- big sporting events, Yankee games, you name it, I've done them all and I've never ever had a problem -- but that one day was the exception. Everyone slips at their job at some point. I got up there and I just blanked. I'm a human; I don't know what it was. I just lost the words, and I didn't just want to stop and start over.
It didn't feel right. And all the drivers are looking at me. And all the drivers' wives are looking at me. And I missed a line, and I'm thinking, "Oh my gosh, that's not how it goes." And then the crowd starts booing, and I thought I kinda deserve this, this is the national anthem and I should do it right, but I just made a mistake. It happens.
The Life: You are certainly not the first to blank. We've seen YouTube video after YouTube video of singers freezing in front of a stadium with a mic in their hand. Sometimes players or coaches will jump in and help them out.
McCartney: Yeah, I definitely did not have that luxury. Hopefully, ESPN will televise me singing it again. I've sang it two or three times since, just as recently as the Lakers-Suns game in Phoenix, and I did very well. So, you know, it was just one of those things. Just a bad day at work.
The Life: Do nerves typically hit you before a big show?
McCartney: No. I usually really don't get nervous at all. Plus, crowds are more forgiving when you mess up the lyrics to one of your own songs. But that wasn't my own song. That song is the people's song and it's a melody that is so respected and protected that you just can't mess it up without people getting a little offended. And I completely understand that, so I take the rap for that one. I was mortified when I got off that stage. And I had never been to a NASCAR race before and I was so excited to see that one, but I got off stage after that and I felt so horrible, I was just like, "Get me out of here. Get me home before they kill me!" [Laughs.]
The Life: One of the places you've sung the anthem was at a Madden flag-football celebrity pro-am in Malibu. You've met just about every athlete and celebrity there is. Is there anybody who still makes you starstruck?
McCartney: I'd be pretty starstruck if I ever got to meet LeBron [James]. I love the Lakers, but LeBron is larger than life. I was out one night and Lamar Odom came up to me and he was like, "Hey man. Once in awhile, we hear your song in the locker room." That was pretty awesome. I find it hard to believe that the Lakers are warming up to one of my records, but he was like, "No, man, once in awhile." I'll take that.
The Life: What do you want for Christmas?
McCartney: A 10-day vacation.
The Life: Where to?
McCartney: I'm hoping to get away and into some snow. Maybe fly out to Colorado or something. I didn't get out at all last year and I grew up skiing every year with my family. It's a big passion of mine, and I think that will be my gift to myself this year.
The Life: What mountains did you grow up on?
McCartney: My family would head up to Vermont. Sugarbush and a couple of the bunny hills back east. It was more like ice skating than snow skiing, but I loved it. When I moved out to the West Coast, I was in heaven with the powder. But it makes you a better skier putting in years on patches of ice. Now I go to Mammoth and Tahoe, or for a quick fix, I'll make the two-hour drive from home in L.A. to Big Bear. It's not a big mountain, but you can literally go ski down the mountain for a few hours and then drive home and go surfing in the same day. You gotta appreciate that for what it is.
Mary Buckheit is a freelance writer based in San Diego. Reach her at MaryBuckheit@hotmail.com.