There aren't many freshly 21 year olds who have already brokered a singing career, brought down the house on Broadway and successfully warmed up network television. In fact, there are only very few entertainers today who are worthy of making a bid for the coveted EGOT, but multi-threat Trevor Jackson is one of them.
After breaking out as young Simba on Broadway as a child, Jackson has found himself a Netflix favorite and ABC go-to, after his mother encouraged him to attend a casting for what became hit anthology series American Crime. Now, Jackson stars alongside Yara Shahidi as the primary heartthrob on Black-ish spin-off, Grown-ish, navigating Black manhood in an increasingly tense political climate.
As if that wasn't enough, Jackson has also released his debut album, Rough Drafts Pt. 1, a coming-of-age collection of songs written and recorded by the young star in his living room to comply with the concept that no project, including life, should be perfect — there is always room for a re-draft.
This young multi-hyphenate is undeniably the entertainer to have your eye on for 2018. Read our chat with him on what it means to make it, below.
How much pressure has it been with your career taking off in two different lanes? You've really been working on both for such a long time.
Yeah, it's exciting. It's a lot, but it's really fun. Both of those things, music and acting, have saved me at one point or another in my life. Before American Crime I wanted to just stop acting and focus on music. Then my mom was like, "Just go on one audition. Go on this American Crime audition." I didn't even look at the script until I got there. I just kind of winged it, and that was how I fell back into acting. So I've been acting while working a little on music, you know, working on K.C. [Undercover], Burning Sands, Grown-ish, with a lot of the Rough Drafts Pt. 1 album. So that's pretty cool too.
Did anyone ever pigeonhole you as just a singer or just an actor? Was being taken seriously a struggle?
Absolutely. I feel like with anything there are people who are going to speculate or be skeptical about your love or dedication to one or the other. But thankfully I feel like the work has spoken for itself, so I never really have to prove anything. I just want to make the best quality from my side. That's why a lot of the time, I feel like there's very few times, if any at all, where you see me do both. I try to stray away from any type of film or TV where I have to sing in. I just didn't want to blur the worlds, so when people see me acting, it's only acting. And then they see my music so they know that I take both equally seriously instead of like you said before, a singer trying to act or an actor trying to sing. I'm trying to keep it as two separate entities.
The widespread reach of Grown-ish must have given your acting career massive recognition. How has that journey been?
It's a blessing and honor first, but the cool thing about being part of Grown-ish is before every role I got was just so sad, and that stuff kind of sticks to you. I was just like, "No, God please don't make me do something that makes me cry everyday." So Grown-ish came along, and I was able to laugh and be around people I love and make me laugh. And like you said, more people interested in seeing who I am.
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What was that like when you were working on more serious roles? How do you not take it home?
For me, the way I give my best work is when I just kind of go into it. I try and go into it right when they call "action." Because like you said, taking it home... it happens all of the time. It happened to myself and to people I know, so I'm trying to do it as fresh as I can instead of sulking in it.
"I've lived life, I've had heartbreak, I've broken hearts, I've made mistakes, I've done stupid things. But all of these things are necessary for me to get to the better version of myself."
Also with your music too — the pressure to be in that mindset to create...
That's probably more so, my music definitely more than acting. Especially the music that I'm making is the most vulnerable I've been to myself and to my fans. I feel like this album really shows that I'm an artist and that I make things that actually happened to me and turn it into art and music. The thing that I'm most proud of is that it's relatable. And I know that the music I always love is stuff that I've gone through or that I've known someone going through it. As a human the most difficult and scariest thing is to feel like we're alone. I [want to] be that for someone and let them know that they're not alone, that I've gone through the same things. I've lived life, I've had heartbreak, I've broken hearts, I've made mistakes, I've done stupid things. But all of these things are necessary for me to get to the better version of myself.
Do you feel like you need to be emotional to write great music?
I don't think you need to be emotional, but you need to be in touch with your emotions. I'm definitely a dramatic person, and everybody knows it, but I think it's just more so being able to interpret your emotions. If you're feeling something really intense, you probably won't be able to do anything except lay there and cry. But for me, every song on the album is just as much about heartbreak and those things, as much as it's about funny things. Like for instance, there's a song called, "All I Am," on the album, and it came about because I was at the club with my friend and I was in my friend's section, and this girl was right outside my section and she says, "Come here, come dance." So I come down, we're having a great time, I'm dancing with her, and she says, "Can you bring me up there? Can you get us drinks?" And I was like, "Well, it's not my section, so I can't really do that." And she was like, "Really?" Then she pushes past me, grabs her purse, and walks off. I was thinking, "Is that all I am to you?"
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That has to be the most L.A. story I've every heard.
Yeah, super L.A. I was like, "Wow, is that really all I am to you?" To some of these people, I'm just a guy that can get them drinks and make sure they have a good time, but when I don't do that they don't talk to me.
How do you feel out when someone's genuine in L.A.?
Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference, but most of the time I have a pretty good sense of that. That's why I often don't like to go out too much. I don't want to put myself in a situation that I'm not able to control. As you go on and the more projects you do, the more people want to be around you, so I just try to keep my circle small. But also I don't want to stay too closed off.
There's a big emphasis on politics and youth at the moment, and we've watched pop stars turn into mouthpieces for our generation. Do you feel like you need to broach social justice your music?
I feel like just by being a kid, I'm always going to represent the kids. I always unpack any angle that has helped me — that we don't always have it together and it's okay, we don't always have it figured out. Whether it be about your sexuality, or things that you want to do, or a boyfriend/girlfriend, anything. It's okay not to have it all together. I want to represent that and be apart of the journey to find yourself. When it comes to social media and even politics, everybody is trying to be somebody else for somebody else.
Particularly with social media. It's a whole different world now, where you're valued by likes and followers. You hear of actors asked for follow counts at auditions.
Which is so wrong. I wish the world was not like that. It has nothing to do with anything, and that's another thing. Not that I have anything against technology, but it's making things really f**ked. It's truly a way that people live, and I'm like, "What happened to picking up phones?" You can just tell, even the way [our] generation acts now, when you see someone in person it's so funny because they're so into tech and when you try to talk to then it's a little more difficult, and it's harder to get across. The only reason I need a phone and have an Instagram is because I absolutely have to be, because obviously I want to give my fans what they want. It's a catch 22, and there's a lot of negative sides to the positive. Because people I know are literally on their phones all day, just scrolling, liking, posting, repeat. I've caught myself red-handed doing it, and force myself to put the phone down.
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"Fame comes and goes, so I try to really monitor that. It can be deadly if not, and can be toxic."
It must be a real navigation too, working out how much of yourself to hold back and how much to put of yourself out there, with fans and followers.
I know a lot of people, not naming anyone, who live and die by their Twitter and Instagram. They read the comments in their Twitter and they're truly affected by what people say. People say things about me, too, but I've felt that if you give people everything then they can control everything. You'll never see me on Instagram like, "Oh my God guys, thanks." I just let all of my projects come out, and that's why people are like "Oh my God, when did this happen?" And it's actually been a few years, you just didn't know. I like feeding myself first, instead of going through it at the same time with the world. Fame comes and goes, so I try to really monitor that. It can be deadly if not, and can be toxic. I try to watch it, but I never get jealous.
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