Trevor Jackson is an old 17. With a grey button-down shirt adored with yellow bumblebees fitted to his slender six-foot frame, he introduces himself with a firm handshake. He has a baby face but the poise of a man who has lived a little, because he has. In 2005, unlike other eight year olds, Jackson was in New York City playing a young Simba in the Broadway musical The Lion King. He then went on to acting roles in Cold Case, Criminal Minds and the 2012 Disney movie Let it Shine. Last year, the triple threat (he sings, dances and acts) dropped his EP New Thang and is now featured on label mate Diggy Simmons’ new single “My Girl.”
Trevor visited the VIBE offices yesterday (May 5) to talk about his new song with Rev Run’s son, his influences, upcoming album and ditching hoop dreams for music. —Tanay Hudson
VIBE: How long have you been singing and acting?
Trevor Jackson: I’ve been trying to sing for a long time. I didn’t realize that’s what I wanted to do until I was about seven or eight. I tap danced since I was three years old and that’s all I did. Watching Michael [Jackson] and Gregory Hines, I was extremely inspired by them. The way they touched my life is the reason I am where I’m now and hopefully I can do that for as many people as possible.
Who introduced you to them?
Well Michael was everywhere but with Gregory Hines I’ve always wanted to watch movies that had tapping in them because I was so into tapping. He played in Bojangles and that’s like the best tap movie, to me, of all time. To be able to watch that and then the Nicholas Brothers, there’s so many people. But he’s in the movie, he’s clearly acting, he’s dancing in the movie and he’s singing in the movie. He’s doing everything so I was like, I wanna be like him.
You have a new song with Diggy called “My Girl.” How did you and Diggy meet?
Me and Diggy have crossed paths multiple times but we’re both at the same label, Atlantic Records, and they played me the song and I was like “This is dope” and went and cut it. They loved it. We’re both kind of in the same space in our lives and music is where our heart is. It became an awesome friendship after the video shoot. We just really connected.
Tell us about your upcoming album.
My EP already came out—it’s called New Thang—but I’ve been in the studio wrapping up. The album is finished; I can’t wait for the world to hear it. I wanted every song to say something, to be an experience. I wouldn’t want anybody to be able to skip. I wanted to make sure people could relate and escape for a little bit.
What are the songs about?
The songs are about women. About different kinds of women, how women make you feel [laughs]. The way you feel about a particular girl, there’s so many different, um…
Women! [laughs]. And there’s so many different ways that you have to deal with certain women. So all those are on there.
T-Pain. That’s pretty much the only one right now but we definitely have some more coming.
Were you able to get in the studio with him?
No. It was actually his record to begin with. I heard it and they weren’t really gonna use it and then I ended up using it and he was featured. It turned out really good. He’s a fan of my work. There’s nothing better than to work with somebody who appreciates you as an artist.
You mentioned MJ and Gregory Hines, but are there any other key influences?
Donny Hathaway is a huge one. I love Brian McKnight—he’s one of my favorite people. I call him the riff pattern. I go to him when I’m in need of a new riff [laughs]. He’s amazing, one of the best vocal guys ever.
Who are you listening to right now?
Chris is a beast. I listen to Drake—I thought the album was amazing. I like PartyNextDoor, Chance the Rapper’s dope. Kendrick is like my favorite rapper of the century. He’s amazing.
Do you come from a musical family?
Not at all. I don’t come from any type of entertainment. I come from a basketball family. My dad still says, “Trevor, are you sure don’t want to play basketball? You can play in college and go to the NBA!” But I did play. Tap dancing and basketball started at the same time and when I was eight I just kind of made the decision that entertainment was really where I wanted to be. Every time I’m ever in L.A. if I have anytime off—which is rare—I’ll go straight to the basketball court and play. That’s a way for me to escape and get my mind off everything. I’m so competitive so if I’m playing basketball, all I’m thinking about is winning.
Why singing and acting over basketball?
I feel like I was just put here to do that. I can’t see myself doing anything else. I feel like I can touch more people with music. I’ve been given the tools necessary to be a great musician, a great entertainer and great person that’s gonna inspire everyone. But with basketball, I’m short and I would have to dunk over people and that’s a task right now.