Trevor Jackson's vibrant personality fits right in with the effervescent atmosphere of his temporary abode, the Hotel Indigo in New York’s Lower East Side. His sizable 6-foot frame rushes out of the brick industrial elevator with enough energy to power a freight train. The Indiana native’s vitality is apparent, as he aims for a perfect personality shot during our brief photo-op, even going so far as to hang on one of the wall sculptures. After we get our snaps, our small entourage saunters across the cobblestone street on that humid April evening into the quaint restaurant Sweet Chick, where Jackson sits down, fiddles with his phone and ultimately struggles to keep still. His extreme pluckiness may be due to the fact that he downed four slices of Domino’s Deep-Pan Pizza before our meeting (he actually just got to NYC a few hours ago after spending time on connecting flights for the better part of the day). But it could also just be the fact that he’s just 19 years old.
His age and his level of professionalism, however, are not mutually exclusive. Of course, there’s the occasional sex-tinged joke here and there, but it’s mostly business with this multitalented young artist. Trevor is mature beyond his years, having been in the industry since he’s been old enough to learn his times tables. He carries himself exceptionally and is very serious about his craft, or shall we say, crafts.
“I'm that type of person that if I feel like I'm doing the same thing in life, then I'm stuck,” he tells me over our Southern comfort meal. He orders waffles, but understandably still stuffed from his pizza, they go untouched. “Always gotta be moving and doing something different.”
That last sentiment is no front. He’s scratched every part of the entertainment surface all before he’s allowed to (legally) have a beer by appearing in stage, television and film productions. He performed “800-something” shows from the ages of eight to 11 as Young Simba in the national tour of the Broadway adaptation of The Lion King, where he realized that performing was tailor-made for him. His momentum steadily rose as he transitioned from the Great White Way to the small screen, and he hasn’t stopped since. After acting in television shows like NBC’s Harry’s Law and Cold Case, Jackson made his way to film in 2012 through Disney Channel’s original movie Let It Shine alongside Tyler James Williams. That same year, he signed to Atlantic Records and released his first EP #NewThang in September 2013. Currently, Jackson can be seen in ABC’s American Crime where he portrays Kevin Lacroix, the captain of his high school basketball team who is accused of engaging in lascivious acts. Jackson is also developing a burgeoning music career. His first headlining tour, In My Feelings, is set to begin the day after our meeting (April 12) at SOB’s in SoHo, where he'll perform songs from his August 2015 self-written EP of the same name across five cities.
“I'm hoping to shut down every show,” he says when asked about what he’s hoping to accomplish while on the road. “I want there to be ambulances... nah, I'm just kidding! I just wanna perform, man. I haven't been able to be on the ground with them [the fans]. I’ve been shooting a lot, so I definitely want to get out with some stuff and give them a great, great show that they'll remember forever.”
As a budding Renaissance man, Jackson prefers singing to acting (“When I'm acting in TV or movies, I'm a character. But when I'm doing music, I'm Trevor Jackson”). However, he always gives credit to his first love—tap dance—for opening doors for him when he was starting to find his footing in the entertainment world. Jackson shuffled into the spotlight as a competitive tap dancer, and after excelling so quickly despite his age, it was clear he needed to expand upon his gifts.
“I met some guy in New York at some workshop, and he was like, ‘We know he can dance, but I wanna see him do something else,’” he recalls of his foray into the world of acting. Long story short, he was bamboozled into it. “So, he invited me back,” he continues. “He said, ‘It’s another tap class.’ I show up... it's an acting class, and that's how that happened.”
“I mean, he kept telling me from a very young age,” notes momager Cam Baxter of her son’s initial leap into the limelight. “It just started blossoming from when he started dancing, and it just went into that direction. I started seeing what he kept telling me about, and we’ve been on this crazy journey together.”
On American Crime, Jackson works alongside Regina King and Andre “3000” Benjamin, his TV parents. By observing their work ethic, he’s learning firsthand what it takes to be an actor in a serious role.
“When she's [King] doing her thing, let's say for instance how she deals with the director, how she deals with another actor, she really breaks it down and really tries to find how she can make it real,” he explains of his co-star. “So that's what I try to pick up on. I'm just thankful to have such cool people in my life. I grew a lot.”
As a musician, Jackson has performed with Justine Skye and collaborated with Sage The Gemini, B.o.B and his “bro” Diggy Simmons. He worked with Kevin Gates on In My Feelings by chance, after bumping into him at Atlantic Records during the album’s early production stages. “He comes over, I play him one record, then I play him 'Bang Bang,' and he's like, ‘What do I have to do to get on that record?’” he recalls. “Fifteen minutes later, he comes back and he's like, 'It's done. I put the package down for ya!’ Kevin Gates is probably the smartest person I've ever worked with. He's cool, he's crazy, but he's genius.”
Jackson also had the opportunity to perform on the road with R&B icon Tank at select venues during his recent “Sex, Love & Pain” Tour. The concert was very “old school meets new school,” but according to Jackson, he and Tank became fairly close, with Tank often joking at Trevor’s expense during shows.
“It's so funny, dude, the similarities and the differences between us,” Jackson says. During concerts, Tank would tell a recurring joke to the crowd that Trevor was trying to steal all of the female fans from him, but due to his young age, the lust had to remain unrequited. “He was on me for a long time!” he laughs. “It was like, “Okay, we know! We get it!””
Although comparisons to the Chris Browns, Bryson Tillers and Trey Songz' of the music world are duly noted, Jackson doesn’t classify himself as an R&B artist per se. “When you say 'R&B,' people's minds automatically go in a place,” he says. “How about I just say, ‘Here's a tape, you can check it out on iTunes, you tell me.’ Any project that I put out, I never want it to sound like the first one. It can have some vibes or stuff that matches, but I want it to be growth, progression, and you can't be comfortable when you're growing. If it feels good and it sounds good, it's good.” Despite the lack of personal categorization for his music, he’s been inspired by several R&B and pop musicians like Michael Jackson, Donny Hathaway, Boyz II Men and the “true king of R&B” R. Kelly.
As a performer, what drives Jackson to do his best is knowing that he’s bringing someone joy, a notion that’s driven him to perform ever since his days on the road with The Lion King. “I see people, and they're just turnt and happy and all just because of… me!” he chuckles. “Everybody is having a good time because of what I love to do. I just get so hype, I love performing. I love performing whether someone's there or someone isn't there.” His fanbase ranges from 15 to 25 year olds, but it always varies; he once had a 60-year-old female fan grab his “entire left cheek” at a show.
As far as watching her son perform mature choreography and hearing him sing songs with adult themes, Baxter says that at times it’s not easy, but she knows that this is all part of the industry.
“I have to change my hat,” she notes of walking the line between mom and manager. “I have to be in manager mode and not think about it [content], because I know it comes with the gig. That’s what sells music.” When he’s crooning to his concert crowds, Jackson likes to be just as whimsical as he is in person. He’ll point out when fans look like they’re not enjoying themselves mid-performance and will embarrass audience goers who are more interested in their phones rather than what’s going on on stage.“I give what the audience gives, and if they're not giving, I'll tell them they're not giving,” he says, matter-of-factly.
Since he’s practically an industry veteran, stage fright is no longer an issue, but because of his perfectionist tendencies he's hard on himself. For him, several factors for him can separate a “bad” show from a good one. “Bad notes, not hitting notes, messing up lyrics…” he says solemnly. “She [Baxter] hates being around me after a show, because I'm just like, 'Don't talk to me.' I know what I can do. And if it's not the way I know I can do it, which is ‘great’ or ‘excellent,’ then it's not good.”
“You're so young but you do so much,” I say between bites of chicken pot pie, visibly flabbergasted when given the details of his eventful career. “So, what do you like to do when you're not ‘on’?"
Despite his jam-packed life, Jackson is a normal young man who enjoys doing things that keep him grounded. He loves playing and watching basketball, and recently started getting into chess, which he was reluctantly taught to play at the age of five. He enjoys watching the show Underground and playing video games such as Mortal Kombat, which he’s “disgustingly good” at if he chooses Sub Zero or Scorpion. He’s not the biggest fan of social media, doesn’t really have time for dating and is very interested in the world around him. This year marks the first Presidential election he’s able to vote in, however, he feels “no hope” about the candidates to choose from. He’s also wishing for a more evolved educational system to be developed one day. Above all, Jackson likes to keep the faith, as evidenced by his pre-show prayer ritual and 2 Timothy 1:7 being tattooed on his arm: ”For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”
“That's the first verse I ever learned, and it's the opening of In My Feelings,” he explains, left arm stretched across the wooden table between plates. The verse was taught to him by his grandmother, whose handwriting is immortalized on him for the purpose of the art. Interestingly enough, he learned the verse at the age of eight, the same age he was when he began his entertainment journey.
“That's been the whole thing in my life. I'm not really afraid of a lot of things because of this.” His longevity in the industry is likely due to his ability to take risks which have elevated his career. At times, Jackson does get overwhelmed with how booked his life is, but he assures me that he wouldn’t have it any other way. “I wouldn't be me, and my life wouldn't be mine,” he says through a charming grin. “Whatever it [his life dream] would have been, I would have tried to be the best at it, and I wouldn't have stopped until I was. Or the greatest I can be. You gotta be great, you have one life.”