Though she's just a couple weeks shy of her 18th birthday, 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.
"It's always been my favorite," enthuses the petite blonde. "I found that I could relate to it more than any other genre and I felt like it was so honest. It told stories like nothing else and it spilled everything right out on the table. There's hardly a country song that plays that doesn't make you smile and want to dance or want to make you have a tear trickling down your cheek, so for country music to evoke those kinds of emotions, I guess that's what drew me towards it."
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."