Jennette McCurdy is an energetic young artist with the drive, talent and creative chutzpah it takes to turn dreams into reality. Already a successful actress with a legion of fans who know her as the sassy Sam Puckett on the Nickelodeon TV series iCarly, McCurdy is also a gifted singer/songwriter who has long wanted to launch a career in country music.
McCurdy grew up in Garden Grove, a family-friendly Southern California town. "People think every place in California has got bright lights and big buildings," says McCurdy, admitting her hometown has a decidedly more country feel. "We lived in a little corner house that's blue and white. We had eight people in the house growing up. My grandparents lived with us, mom and dad, my three big brothers and myself. I always remembered my grandma walking around the house singing Patsy Cline songs."
McCurdy grew up with an appreciation for the classics, but also a love for Rascal Flatts, Faith Hill, Shania Twain, Keith Urban and other contemporary country acts whose music provided the soundtrack for her childhood. "I was into Faith Hill when 'Breathe' came out. I love that song," she says. "When I was seven, I actually did a music video where I played her daughter and was able to talk to her and see how nice she is. She really encouraged me at a young age."
By the time she was eight, McCurdy was writing songs and recording them on a tape recorder her mother had given her. In addition to her love for country music, McCurdy cites the Eagles, Bob Dylan and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young as influences, and as a budding songwriter, she also gravitated toward the music of 70s singer/songwriters Carole King, James Taylor and Jim Croce. "I started writing with co-writers very seriously when I was 14 or 15," McCurdy says. "After working on the television show, I would go to co-writers' houses in LA, and on the weekends I'd write, so that was pretty much every day. It just got to a point where I'd say I was writing songs on my blog and everybody was really curious. I really wanted to share my music with people and let everybody hear what I'm about, so I put two songs on iTunes and that attracted label interest."
Most record companies that came calling saw McCurdy as the next big pop star, but that's a vision she didn't share. "They said, 'we want you to do pop, and I said, 'I'm country and I want to really do country. That's my favorite genre and that's where I feel like I belong.' They just all seemed to want to push that," she says of those trying to steer her toward the pop world. "I felt so uneasy about that. I just wouldn't fit in there and I wouldn't be doing what I wanted to be doing. I was really, really blessed to sign with Capitol."
McCurdy's deal with Capitol Nashville provided a birthday memory she'll always remember. "I signed on my 17th birthday, so it was really special," she recalls of inking her deal June 26, 2009. "It was in the conference room and there was this cake with dots on it--dots are my favorite thing--and a big banner that said 'Happy Birthday Jennette!' Everybody from Capitol stopped in and sang 'Happy Birthday' and it was so special. I can't imagine anything better than a record deal on your birthday. I thought I was in a dream. I thought I'd just wake up and go, 'wow, that was a great experience,' but it's real!"
McCurdy's Capitol debut reflects her uniqueness as an artist. She's both an old soul and an effervescent teen. She's a movie buff who credits the original Star Wars with giving her the acting bug and one of her career highlights is a role in the film "Hollywood Homicide" with her hero Harrison Ford. She boasts an acting resume that includes "CSI," "Malcolm in the Middle," "Judging Amy," "Law and Order SVU," "Zoey 101" and "Will & Grace." She's been nominated for a Young Artist Award for Best Performance in a television series and was nominated for a 2009 Teen Choice Award for Favorite Sidekick for her work on "iCarly."
Though still in her teens, there's a depth to McCurdy's work that comes, in part, from weathering some difficult times. Her mother battled cancer and won, but the disease impacted the entire family, including young Jennette. "I knew how severe that her cancer had gotten," McCurdy says. "She was in the hospital for so long. It was difficult dealing with it, but I think it's so important to write about things like that. I could write other things or could just write somebody else's song, but it wouldn't be true to myself. The whole point of making music is to share your experiences with people because they can relate more if you just tell your story honestly."
McCurdy's ability to tap into a wealth of emotional experiences and channel them into songs has earned her the respect of many of Nashville's top songwriters. On her debut disc, she collaborates with Lady Antebellum's Dave Haywood and Charles Kelley on two tunes—"The Summer Song" and "Heart of a Child." "I remember walking into Charles' house to write and just feeling shaky and really starstruck," McCurdy admits of the collaborative process, which yielded two strong additions to the album. "'Summer Song" is a really fun, upbeat summery kind of song. It'll make you want to turn it up in your speakers and drive to the beach. 'Heart Of A Child' is at the opposite end of the spectrum. It's a little sad. It's reflecting on what it's like to be a child and how great it is to be kind of carefree and not have a worry in the world."
In working on her album, McCurdy also co-wrote with Jessi Alexander, whose credits include Miley Cyrus' "The Climb," Liz Rose, who also writes with Taylor Swift and Luke Laird, who co-wrote two chart topping hits for Carrie Underwood. "I have a cut I wrote with Ty Stevens and Joy Williams [titled] 'Never Let Me Down,'" says McCurdy. "It's one of my favorites. I also wrote 'Not That Far Away' with Blair Daily and Rachel Proctor, who are so great. Then I did a Monty Powell and Anna Wilson song. To walk into Monty's house to write with him was another starstruck experience. I couldn't believe it! I've always been interested in Keith Urban and loved him because of his sensitivity, how genuine he was and how much his heart is just right out there in his songs. I found out that the person he wrote with a lot was actually Monty."
Produced by Paul Worley, McCurdy's album features some of Nashville's most notable musicians, including Chris Rodriguez, Biff Watson, guitarist Kenny Greenberg, drummer Chad Cromwell and keyboardist Mike Rojas. "He's been really awesome," McCurdy says of Worley, "and the band that he assembled I think is the most fantastic element. They added such flavor. I loved them."
McCurdy says her approach to creating her debut album was simple: "I really wanted to just be honest to myself, stay true to myself with every song and deliver a CD that I felt reflected who I am as a person and tell the stories of my life because I feel that that's what people will relate to the most. Country music strikes a chord in peoples hearts that makes you think 'wow! I know exactly what they're talking about. I felt that before.' I wanted people to be able to feel the same thing and I felt that could only be accomplished if I really wrote what I knew."
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