Jesse McCartney’s career is riding a wave in more ways than one.
As an actor, the 17-year-old plays surfer Bradin Westerly in “Summerland,” which begins its second season 9 p.m. ET Monday on the WB.
As a singer, he has the hit single “Beautiful Soul,” which is the title track of his new album and is also featured on the soundtrack of the movie “A Cinderella Story.”
As a teen idol, he incites gawking and giggling, as evidenced by the cluster of young girls that strained to catch a glimpse of him at a recent news conference.
“Getting a taste of this fame thing throws me off a bit,” McCartney says later in the more secure environment of a Hollywood soundstage.
Typically, he was filming a scene where Westerly learns yet another life lesson.
Or maybe not.
Westerly is the oldest of three orphaned kids transplanted from Kansas to live with their fashion-designer aunt, Ava Gregory (Lori Loughlin), in her California beach house.
McCartney describes Westerly as “a troubled teen” who’s always taking “a step forward and then two steps back” when it comes to making the right choices.
In the first 13-episode season, the character had problems with drugs and alcohol and was drawn to the wrong crowd, but the love and concern of his aunt and many friends “help save him from himself.”
Westerly’s troubles are supposed to be even more intense this second season, yet McCartney finds him fun to play because, “It’s dramatic. Drama! Drama!”
Coping with stardomLike the character he plays, McCartney moved from small-town life to a flashier, faster-paced environment. He grew up in Irvington, N.Y., “a very, very small community where everybody knows each other.”
Now he spends most of his time in Hollywood, where the paparazzi “go crazy” if they see him leave a restaurant.
Personally, he says he’s coping well with being a teen idol.
“I’m good, I’m good. I’m just staying busy. It keeps me out of trouble. There’s a lot of traveling going on with the music career going as well as the acting. I don’t have much time for much else,” he says.
“I think he’s coping amazingly well,” says “Summerland” executive producer Remi Aubuchon, “even though I overheard him once saying that he actually likes flying the red eye because it’s the only time he gets a guaranteed amount of sleep!”
McCartney says his busy schedule is all worth it, because “singing was always a passion” and recognition for that is “something I wanted forever.”
“The acting up to now has always been a little bit further ahead than the singing as far as people knowing what I could do ... but the singing’s awesome,” he says.
Aubuchon says the creators of the Spelling Television production felt it was important to “cast kids that were actually the age they were writing for,” rather than use older actors.
He thinks McCartney is excellent at conveying the vulnerability of Westerly, who wants to have fun like any teenager would, but can’t shake off the pain of losing his parents.
At 9, he played Louis, the governess’ son in the national tour of “The King and I,” starring Hayley Mills. He went on to earn a couple of daytime Emmy nominations for playing Adam “J.R.” Chandler from 1998 to 2001 on the soap opera “All My Children.”
Musically, he was a member of the boy band Dream Street and dueted with Anne Hathaway on the soundtrack of the movie “Ella Enchanted.”
Although most of its interior scenes are shot on landlocked soundstages, the exterior shots are filmed at seaside locations up and down the Southern California coast.
“How many people can say they go to work and show up at the beach — it’s great, awesome,” says McCartney, whose frequent use of that last adjective reveals, for all his natural composure, he’s still just a regular teen.
Because his character is an avid surfer, the East Coast native had to learn surfing for the role.
“When I moved out here before production started, they had me train with a couple of pros,” McCartney recalls. “They got me (standing) up the first day. It was awesome.”