Jesse McCartney knows a thing or two about fame. When he was younger, that wasn’t on his mind until suddenly, it was unavoidable. “I never thought of stardom or fame. I really didn’t even think about that,” he said on a YouTube series called “The F Word.” “I remember it all being so surreal and thinking, wow, this is next level. This is like, there are girls screaming!” He recalled a mall appearance where they planned for a few hundred fans to show up, but when he arrived, he realized more than 8,000 people were in attendance. “I remember thinking, ‘All these people are really here to see me?'”
McCartney ruled the 2000s, but his career since has made less noise. He understands that, noting to VMAN that his teen heartthrob status has been difficult to overcome. “I think people hang onto that notion that you’ll never grow. And that’s hard to combat,” he said. Along those lines, McCartney knows that not everyone has kept up with what he’s been up to since the days when “Beautiful Soul” soundtracked a summer. On “The Zach Sang Show,” he reflected, “For some people, I was like, for a certain type of person, or a certain time in their life, and maybe they had moved on” (via YouTube).
While some fans may have moved on, the former teen idol is still around, still working steadily in the business that made him famous. Read on for an answer to the question on everyone’s lips any time “Leavin'” comes on a Spotify playlist of 2000s hits: Whatever happened to Jesse McCartney?
He had a successful music careerJason Nevader/Getty Images
In the early 2000s, Jesse McCartney ruled the radio waves. By “radio waves,” we mostly mean Radio Disney. McCartney was a member of Dream Street, a boy band formed in 1999 that became a Radio Disney fixture with hits like “It Happens Every Time” and “They Don’t Understand,” which was included on the soundtrack for “Pokémon the Movie 2000.” The band even appeared on “Maury.” After noting that he also had a regular role on “All My Children,” McCartney added, “I like hanging with my brothers down here, you know?” (via YouTube). The group broke up in 2002.
While the dissolution of Dream Street doubtless gave many teenagers long sleepless nights, they didn’t have long to wait for more; McCartney went solo, and his music career took off. His single “Beautiful Soul” hit #16 on the Hot 100 in 2005; “Leavin’,” in 2008, peaked at #10. “I think ‘Beautiful Soul’ was the early, sort of innocent, clean version of myself,” he told Pop! Inquirer, “when it was just easy to grab the microphone and sing to people. I wasn’t as preoccupied with what it was I was singing about then.”
The song is McCartney’s signature tune, and he still plays it now. Speaking with “The Zach Sang Show,” McCartney acknowledged, “Do I get sick of it? Maybe sometimes, but I don’t get sick of the reaction and the way people feel when they hear the song” (via YouTube).
He starred on Summerland
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At the peak of his fame, Jesse McCartney wasn’t a teen heartthrob merely because he was a pop music fixture. He’s an actor, too, having made a name for himself on “All My Children” before jumping to his own series, “Summerland.” The WB show centered around three kids who go live with their aunt (Lori Loughlin) after their parents die in a terrible car accident. They take up surfing as they get integrated into the local community in Malibu. McCartney played Bradin, the eldest brother.
“Bradin. He’s a punk!” McCartney joked on “Soap Talk” (via YouTube). “He’s such a punk! He, y’know, the writers have actually done a really good job. They’ve captured that typical teenage lifestyle.” McCartney’s “Summerland” co-star Zac Efron went on to considerable fame of his own, but McCartney remembers him as just a nice kid who felt like a little brother. “I just remember thinking, like, this guy is so talented, so kind,” he told Us Weekly (via YouTube). ” … He went on to do, of course, incredible things.”
While the show was a decent hit among teenagers, it didn’t survive the changeover when The WB became The CW. McCartney later told Cosmopolitan, “It was a dream job, and then when it got canceled after two seasons, and then became The CW, it was like, back to reality. It was like, oh, now I’m an unemployed actor in LA” (via YouTube).
He spread rumors about J.Lo
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In 2006, Jesse McCartney got into trouble with a much bigger star. The “Body Language” star was on a radio show talking about his then-girlfriend Katie Cassidy, who he claimed had signed on to replace Jennifer Lopez in a film adaptation of “Dallas” (which wound up never getting off the ground). When the radio hosts asked why Lopez was let go, McCartney replied, “She didn’t get fired. She’s pregnant” (via Digital Spy).
That was news to everyone. DJ Vikki Locke recalled that McCartney looked nervous after spilling the beans: “It was kind of a, ‘Oops, what did I just do?’ moment. … When the microphones were off, he just looked at the woman with him and asked, ‘Was I not supposed to say anything?'” He was, indeed, not supposed to say anything. McCartney released an apology to TMZ, saying, “I have no firsthand knowledge whether Jennifer Lopez is pregnant or not. I thought I had read it somewhere.”
J.Lo, who was married to Marc Anthony at the time, released a statement denying the rumor. Her spokesperson kept it simple, telling Hollywood.com that McCartney’s statement was “100% not true.” Lopez would indeed give birth to twins with Anthony, but not until 2008; in other words, McCartney did not have the inside scoop after all.
He worked as a songwriter for other stars
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While Jesse McCartney’s own musical hits are no small feat, fans may not know that he was responsible for cowriting one of the biggest songs of the 2000s. Along with Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic, McCartney penned “Bleeding Love,” a song that ultimately went to Leona Lewis. The inescapable song hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, where it remained for an impressive four weeks — a higher peak than any of McCartney’s singles.
“I originally wrote it for my own record,” he told Contact Music. “I kept thinking about being in love so much that it hurts. … I was so in love that it was painful. It was like bleeding, it cut me open.” His girlfriend at the time was “Arrow” star Katie Cassidy; who knew that she provided the inspiration for such an iconic track?
While many singers might be bitter that someone else had such a hit with their song, McCartney acknowledges the talent that Lewis brought to the music. “I think there’s a common misconception that a hit song is a hit song for everybody,” he told HuffPost. “I think that what Leona did to that song vocally is something that most women, or most artists, period, could never do. … Whether I recorded it and made it a hit, we’ll never know.”
He almost starred in a big flop
After “Summerland,” Jesse McCartney’s acting career didn’t necessarily take off. He played himself on “Hannah Montana” and “The Suite Life of Zack & Cody,” provided voices to a number of animated projects, led an indie movie called “Keith,” and had a six-episode stint on ABC Family’s “Greek.” Otherwise, though, McCartney finished out the 2000s on a quiet note.
Perhaps that’s actually for the best, considering the other way his career might have gone. “When I was like 21 or 22 years old, I had booked one of the lead roles in M. Night Shyamalan’s new movie ‘The Last Airbender,'” he told People a decade later. “It was going to be my first big studio picture. I was very excited and it was a tens of millions of dollars budget film.” McCartney took karate lessons, got paid for the role, and was all ready to fly to Greenland to start filming, but then he got a call that he had been replaced mere days before shooting was to commence. McCartney’s agent told him he’d been swapped out for “political reasons,” though he didn’t go into detail about what that might mean.
The movie was a high-profile bomb, clocking in at a dismal 5% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Still, it hurt. McCartney reflected, “When you’re 21, it’s a lot harder to handle it. Now I feel like I’m a lot more resilient, but at the time those are really tough moments to get past.”
He’s been on multiple TV shows
Jesse McCartney hasn’t led the cast of a TV show since “Summerland” went off the air in 2005, but the actor still picks up television gigs every now and then. After working with Emily Osment on “Hannah Montana,” he was cast as her love interest Cooper on multiple episodes of her ABC Family sitcom “Young & Hungry.”
Re-watching a clip of the show for an interview with Cosmopolitan, McCartney pointed out that Osment wasn’t the only reunion on set (via YouTube). “That’s Jon Sadowski, Jonathan Sadowski. Great actor, also happens to be one of my best friends,” he said. “We actually met shooting a horror film, a thriller, together, called ‘Chernobyl Diaries,’ and years later, we end up doing this television show together.”
He starred in multiple episodes of “Army Wives,” and he even popped in for an arc on AMC’s zombie spinoff “Fear the Walking Dead.” His villainous appearance on the show surprised fans of his music who hadn’t seen the former teen idol in a while. “Boy went from Dream Street to Pacific Ocean, zombie-fleeing, boat-stealing pirate!” one fan wrote on Twitter, while another tagged the actor and added, “@JesseMcCartney what happened to your beautiful soul ??????” (via ComicBook).
He’s a voice actor
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If fans feel like they haven’t seen Jesse McCartney in a while, that might be because the actor spends a lot of time in the recording booth, working as a voice actor. It’s a career path he’s been on since the mid-2000s when he voiced Theodore in the live-action “Alvin and the Chipmunks” films. He lent his voice to “Horton Hears a Who,” played a Hardy brother in a “Hardy Boys” video game, and even appeared as a character called Terence in multiple animated “Tinker Bell” movies.
Perhaps most famously, McCartney voiced Dick Grayson on “Young Justice,” a superhero cartoon, from 2010 to 2022. When the series premiered, he told CBR that he took the responsibility of playing such an iconic character seriously. “I used to watch these shows when I was younger and now to be a part of it is sort of overwhelming,” he said.
“Voiceovers are like, I think, a part of my career nobody knows about,” McCartney told “The Zach Sang Show” (via YouTube). He added that he rolls out of bed, makes his coffee, and goes to the recording studio in his pajamas, noting that voice acting gigs are “a good way to make dough.” Having that income is important, McCartney said, because it allows him to do other things. “I supplement a lot of, like, my music, and being in the music industry, and trying to make music, with stuff like that. … Those are my bread and butter.”
He was Turtle on The Masked Singer
During the third season of “The Masked Singer,” a mysterious figure dressed as “Turtle” wowed the judges and the audience with his soulful voice. Clues like a comic book, a biohazard symbol, and a map of Seoul were supposed to guide viewers to Robin on “Young Justice,” the movie “Chernobyl Diaries,” and Jesse McCartney’s “Beautiful Soul,” because Turtle was none other than the “How Do You Sleep” singer himself. McCartney ultimately came in second place on the show, losing to “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” star Kandi Burruss.
Ultimately, McCartney wasn’t too disappointed that he didn’t win. “It’s okay, honestly. It was such a fun, incredible experience that I’ll never forget,” he told Entertainment Weekly. He added, “When you get that far … you definitely smell blood. You can smell the end. And yeah, I mean, I was disappointed, but ultimately, it could have been anybody’s game.”
McCartney returned in 2021, sans mask, to duet with someone in a bull costume; Bull was later revealed to be controversy-prone social media star Todrick Hall. Together, they sang a cover of The Script song “Breakeven.” Ever the savvy businessman, McCartney used his appearance to promote his tour on Instagram. “Performing live on stage again was amazing, thank you @MaskedSingerFOX! I can’t wait to do it again next May on the New Stage 2022 Tour.”
He kept fans entertained during the pandemic
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jesse McCartney and his then-fiancee Katie Peterson made headlines for their “Quarantined Couple” series of comedic videos. They took viewers inside their life at home, cleaning windows out of boredom, having dance parties together in their living room, and binging a whole lot of television.
McCartney spoke to People about the series, explaining, “We figured while we are going to be in such close quarters together, we might as well make light of it and try to give people a good laugh. We really enjoy being creative, so this was the perfect opportunity to do that organically.”
In a separate interview with People a few weeks later, McCartney admitted that the series had fallen off as their attention turned to other things. However, he noted, content like the “Quarantined Couple” videos was still important. “As I watch the ever-shifting paradigm in this industry, particularly with social media, people are definitely interested in what you ate for lunch just as much as they are your single.”
His former bandmate Chris Trousdale died
2020 was a bad year for just about everyone, and Jesse McCartney got some bad news that summer, too. He announced on Instagram that his former Dream Street bandmate Chris Trousdale had died from COVID-19. “Chris had an explosively charming personality with boundless amounts of talent. … We were young kids with budding talent who shared an overwhelming love for music and performing. Chris, in my opinion, was the most popular among us, who had a way of drawing every eye to what he was doing on stage.” McCartney wrote that the two were as close as brothers when they were younger, but he acknowledged that they’d grown apart in the years since the band split up. “RIP Chris,” he concluded. “I’ll never forget your smile.”
A few days after the news broke, McCartney reunited with the surviving members of Dream Street to pay tribute to their old friend. On YouTube, they shared an emotional new version of their hit single “It Happens Every Time,” recorded from their separate, socially distanced locations. The performance footage was overlaid with video of a young Trousdale performing with the band, adding up to quite the emotional experience.
A year after Trousdale’s death, McCartney offered some further thoughts to E! News. He said he relished the chance to talk to his bandmates again, reflecting, “That was really nice and sort of brought me back and made me feel very nostalgic.”
McCartney got married
Jesse McCartney met Katie Peterson when he walked into a bar where she worked as a bartender. It was just before closing, but they had a connection. They dated for years, and in September 2019, he popped the question. McCartney announced the news alongside an Instagram photo of himself kissing his new fiancee. “Locked it up,” he wrote simply.
People announced in 2021 that they had gotten married. The actor gave the outlet an interview beforehand, and he anticipated a certain moment of the ceremony heavily. “I think that moment of settling in at the altar and just watching her come down is going to be pretty special and having our families there and witnessing all of it … It’s hard not to be romantic about that portion of the night,” he said.
A few days later, People shared photos of their ultra-romantic ceremony. Their dog served as flower girl, and Peterson’s uncle was the one who married the happy couple. McCartney wore a Brioni tuxedo on the big day, and he told People it was definitely the right choice. He said, “It’s just such an unbelievable fit and it’s really comfortable and when I put it on, I felt like a million bucks.”
He’s still making music
While it’s been a while since he had a major charting hit, Jesse McCartney is still making music. He released an album called “New Stage” in 2021, a title that plays on several different aspects of his life at the time. He told 1883 Magazine that it represented not only a new stage of his career but also where he was personally, reflecting, “Growing up in the industry and being surrounded by so much chaos and all of the things you think of Hollywood — the glitz and the glam and the red carpets and the red ropes — I feel like I’m in another place in my life where I’m settled and content.”
Releasing new music also brought him back to a literal stage, as McCartney toured for the first time in a while. He told American Songwriter that he was particularly excited to take his music on the road, especially as the world opened back up after the COVID-19 vaccine became available. “It’s just so nice to see everyone’s faces in the audience, and people cheering and singing,” he said.
McCartney also clarified that the new music represented a new stage of his life, considering his marriage. “It’s like all the sudden I blinked, and I’m a grown-up, doing grown-up things and making grown-up decisions — it just feels like I’m in chapter two of my life at 34 years old, and I’m really happy about it.”