On what turned out to be a sunny yet unusually cool Monday afternoon in early April, Trevor Jackson glides quietly into an already bustling suite at the Hotel Indigo on the Lower East Side of New York City. In a room full of designer garments, shoes and accessories all receiving their last minute touchups, a stylist calling the shots, a makeup artist prepped to make his skin glow on camera and a photographer setting up equipment for the first shots of the day, Jackson seems to turn on an internal switch shifting his energy into high gear.
Moments before his arrival, Jackson was en route to the set of his photo shoot Snapchatting his whereabouts to his thousands of followers. Playfully singing his own made up ditty about how he’s “got to keep on moving,” Jackson greets everyone in the room with an enthusiastic “hello,” a handshake and a winning smile.
Slightly fatigued after his flight from Los Angeles, his home for the last eight years, he’s been quite busy becoming a superstar amongst the new wave of young entertainers. The Indianapolis native whose father had high hopes for his son to play basketball hasn’t stopped dreaming out loud. He recently snagged an opening gig on Tank’s “Sex, Love & Pain” tour and is already slated for film projects to carry him throughout the year. Jackson is currently making both music and acting his daily sport, successfully juggling a rigorous schedule between his two passions.
“It’s the funniest thing. People who know me as an actor don’t know I sing,” said Jackson flashing that signature coy smile once again. “Then there are people who know that I sing and don’t know that I’m an actor. So now, it’s starting to come together. People are putting the name with the face and it makes sense, but I just want to give it all that I’ve got while I’m here.”
Today, however, Jackson is adding model to that growing list of working titles. Seated in the makeup chair he’s visibly eager to put in the day’s work as he prepares to do a bit of acting by morphing from one look to the next.
“I’m excited to be here. When I first got here I was tired, but when I saw everybody making moves I caught the vibe and I’m ready to roll,” said Jackson convincingly. It’s the type of motivation he’ll need for a full day of shoots and interviews already booked ahead of an even bigger day coming up the next day – the kick off of his “In My Feelings” Tour. The five-city tour supports music from his debut project of the same name and saw him headlining the BET Music Matters Showcase held at New York’s S.O.B.’s live music venue.
Released August 2015 on Atlantic Records, the album sees Jackson’s string of previous laidback R&B singles like “Drop It” featuring B.O.B. from his 2013 EP “#NewThang” and “Here I Come” playing out just the way he desired. “My goal was to make an album that is not just a bunch of singles, but an album that can be listened to from top to bottom,” said Jackson. “I wanted every song to say something, to be an experience and to be a complete body of work.”
“In My Feelings” is a collection of roughly a dozen slick, radio-friendly R&B tracks sprinkled with hip hop elements from Mystikal and Kevin Gates that showcase Jackson’s vocal ability and his gift of songwriting atop infectious rhythmic patterns. The project also offers a deeper look into who Jackson is becoming even today. “This whole project was basically just me coming into my own. When I got signed, I was very young. I was listening to a lot of people with a lot of opinions. I had to grow up as a man which forced me to grow up as an artist.”
On opening night of the tour, Jackson’s artistry is a little more grown up than the handful of guest rappers and singers. He removes his shirt and commands the crowd with ease. Jackson opted to share his headlining moment with friend Diggy Simmons, his surprise guest who helped set off the finale of his show with their 2014 single “My Girl” while another rapper, songwriter and producer Akon watched attentively from the audience. Jackson and Simmons spontaneous onstage collaboration came from a text conversation during the photo shoot when Simmons found out his friend was in town and invited him to the studio.
“That’s just like Trevor,” said his manager Ms. Baxter after the show. “He wants to take everyone with him wherever he goes.” She’s the one keeping track of Jackson’s schedule handling everything from appearances to bookings and of course the current tour which is expected to hit additional cities this summer. “It happens like that whenever we’re on the road. He’ll have somewhere to be and he’ll go ‘I’m just going to stop by for a few minutes.’ Before you know it, a few hours and a hit track later, I’m the bad guy coming in to make sure he’s where he needs to be on time.”
Jackson’s road to officially releasing music and signing with a major label at age 15 were both a part of a linear series of magical moments in the making throughout his budding career. Back in 2005, before moving to Los Angeles to be closer to the music, film, and television industries, Jackson began as Young Simba in the touring production of The Lion King. “That was a turning point in my life when I realized that entertainment was what I just had to do. Doing The Lion King, I realized that singing was a huge part of my life and I wanted to make good music for the world.” Jackson also said the show’s intense touring schedule helped prepare him for the intensity of his career now.
Three years of touring both the east and west coast singing, acting, and dancing, Jackson left the number one show on Broadway and turned his attention to the small screen. His television guest appearances include the CBS series Cold Case, SyFy’s Eureka, and an episode of Harry’s Law for which he won the Young Artist Award for Best Performance in a TV Series for his role as “Willie Blue.”
Jackson later expanded into film, landing in gospel star Deitrick Haddon’s faith-based feature film debut A Beautiful Soul in 2012. That same year, Jackson appeared in the Disney Channel television movie Let It Shine before he completed shooting for the upcoming feature film Sons 2 The Grave alongside Darren Dewitt Henson.
Most recently, Jackson starred as “Kevin LaCroix” in the second season of John Ridley’s hit dramatic series American Crime. Jackson’s character is the number one player on the basketball team of a prestigious high school whose members were accused of sexual assaulting a male student. Weekly this season featured serious conversations about homophobia, gender bias, racial prejudice, politics, and classicism. Jackson’s character, the only child of an affluent African American family initially becomes targeted for all the wrong reasons.
“It was definitely hard in terms of real acting, but it pushed me,” said Jackson. “It pushed me to a different place. I had to access a completely different mental space.”
Jackson says his character’s personality was also challenging because he was sort of caught in the middle of two worlds. “Kevin’s family having money had a lot to do with how he treated other people. It was never in a disrespectful kind of way, but I feel like he just wanted to do the right thing.”
During a lunch break and set changes for the shoot, Jackson asked me to play an electronic game of chess he’d been fiddling with on his phone. After three rounds of me losing each, I asked him where he learned the to play chess. “My dad taught me. He used to make me play when I was a kid and I hated it, but now I beat him at it.”
Jackson has his eyes set on directing his own projects one day, and says being in the environment of seasoned actors was most beneficial. “It was more of a visual lesson than a verbal one for me. Just watching everyone in their habitat, I tried to soak up everything even between takes about what they each were trying to get out of conversations with the directors.”
Basketball quickly comes back into focus as guests from the NBA stop by the set to help Jackson fulfill one of his father’s early dreams for his son – holding the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy for a series of promotional pictures and yes, more Snapchat videos.
His eyes light up like a kid in a candy store. “Man, this thing is actually pretty heavy,” he says while cradling the golden statue atop the hotel suite’s balcony posing with the Manhattan skyline off in the distance. The wind is blowing beneath his army fatigue jacket making him look like a superhero in the distance. Suddenly he transforms back into character again and it is obvious he is a natural.
Fashion Chris Sandford
Photography Ricardo Nelson
Grooming Asari Suzanne
Hair Gary Dickson
Location Hotel Indigo Lower East Side New York