Jennette McCurdy of iCarly Ready for First Nashville Performances

Singer Plans Appearances at Capitol Street Party, T.J. Martell Foundation Family Day

Jennette McCurdy, an aspiring country artist best known for her role as Sam Puckett on Nickelodeon’s iCarly, is gearing up for her first performances in Nashville. On Wednesday (Oct. 13), she’ll sing and sign autographs during the Capitol Street Party, sponsored by her label, Capitol Nashville. And during the day on Halloween, she’ll be singing and scooping ice cream sundaes at Belmont University for a family day sponsored by the T.J. Martell Foundation, which raises money for leukemia, cancer and AIDS research.

The California native says she was attracted to the charitable cause because her mother is a breast cancer survivor. After 15 years in remission, her mother faced a recurrence earlier this year. Nevertheless, McCurdy’s own youthful enthusiasm cannot be curbed. She released her first single, “Not That Far Away,” this summer and a full-length album is expected early next year. With a rapid delivery and a quick laugh, the California native dropped by CMT’s offices recently to talk about her new music, her songwriting inspiration and her plans for the rest of the year.

CMT: Is it one of your goals to make music that appeals to the whole family?

McCurdy: It really is. That’s something that I’ve always enjoyed. Music is such a universal thing, and it brings people together in such a cool way. When writing a song … you really have to write what’s from your heart. … I hope what came out is something that can appeal to people of all ages and can affect people on different levels depending on, you know, where they are at in their life.

Has it been common for country artists to recognize you from iCarly?

Yeah! I went to the big All for the Hall benefit last year. All these people were coming up and saying “Hey!” Like Jason Aldean and Taylor Swift. I was like, “Whoa! You guys, this is not real! You don’t know me. This is not real. It feels like you’re a separate person. The ‘TV me’ is just my job, but then I come home and I’m the real me. But I feel like that TV person is just some other thing entirely. So it’s weird, and I go, ‘Oh, right!’”

Coming to Nashville and working on your album, was that like a break?

(laughs) Yeah! Funny enough, it was our hiatus from the show. Everybody was like, “How was your break?” I went, “Well … .” But I loved it, I had so much fun. I was here for months and months, just between writing the record and the recording process. It was amazing. It was something that is so different from the acting world and such a different setting. It’s really a personal experience. I mean, you have to delve really deep, especially in the writing process. … Obviously in acting, you can convey emotions from numerous sources. You’ve got your face, you’ve got your body language, your voice, your mannerisms. But for singing, you have to say everything through just your voice. That was very difficult, and I realized what a challenge that is, and I applaud and admire singers for being able to convey so much in just one form.

Do you remember your first time in Nashville?

My first time here, it was on my 17th birthday, and it was when I signed my record deal. I had a Gigi’s cupcake for my birthday. I signed at Capitol, and they had a big cake for me and everybody was there and everybody was so nice. I just thought, “I can’t believe this is happening! I can’t believe this is happening!”

You just go 24/7. What is your day like?

My nickname is the Energizer Bunny because I keep going and going and going. It changes a lot, depending on what I’m doing. For the show, we have pretty early call times. Because I’m no longer a minor — I recently turned 18 — I can work as many hours as they [need], so my days are usually 15 to 17 hours on the set to get all the shots and get all the scenes.

What has changed the most since you turned 18?

My family lives in a place called Garden Grove. It’s a little house, 1,200 square feet, and growing up there with three older brothers, my mom, my dad and my grandparents, it was always crammed and packed. I love Garden Grove, but I’ve been staying in an apartment in L.A., and my mom’s been with me about half of the week. And my grandparents will visit all the time and they’ll bring baked goodies and stuff. That’s a major difference — being located in that L.A. area. I’m so not used to it. I’ve worked in L.A. for so long, but I’m just now getting acquainted with things, so it’s a big change. A big change.

Have you always been interested in songwriting?

I would write little poems when I was younger and then put melodies to them, so I guess you could consider that a song in the humblest form. (laughs) I knew enough of my way around a guitar, just a few chords, but they say all you need is three chords and the truth, so I guess I was well off. And then I played piano for a bit and I’d write frequently. I started co-writing when I was 14, and that was a whole new experience because you have that give and take in the collaborative process. It’s very different from writing on your own, and I learned a lot, particularly writing here in Nashville. I feel like this is the songmaker’s haven. This is where it’s at for songwriting. It doesn’t get better than Nashville.

Do you feel more inspired when you write with someone or on your own?

I feel like inspiration comes more when I’m alone, I’d have to say, but the ideas and the way to go about weaving them into a song is just amazing here. That’s what I took from co-writing. People are so talented at taking something that’s good to something that catches your attention right off the bat. For me, inspiration often comes when it’s quiet, but you never know when inspiration’s going to strike. I always carry a tape recorder because you don’t know, and you don’t want to forget some great idea or line or melody.

For people who are eager to hear the album, how would you describe it to them?

I think it has many different flavors, but it all comes together with a common thread. I feel like it’s just me. I feel like if anybody who knows me, would know this is Jennette talking. … There’s an edgier side of the album and there’s a lot of substance. To me, the heart of the album lies in the ballads. There are three ballads on it. And there’s a lot of energy and up-tempo, fun, rockin’ out music, too. I hope people listen to the whole thing and are able to get all the angles because just by hearing one or two songs, you might think it’s one thing. When you hear the whole thing, it will be entirely different.

What are you looking forward to that’s coming up during the next year?

I guess performing. I’ve got a couple of dates here and there scheduled, but more will trickle in as time unfolds. It’s really fun during a performance to see people’s energy and to be there and right in front of you to have that energy. For the show, we don’t film in front of a live audience, so we don’t have that great impact of people. So that will be fun. And maybe working on some other acting projects. I don’t know. We’ll see what happens.

Craig Shelburne has been writing for CMT.com since 2002. He is also a producer for CMT Edge, Concrete Country and Live @ CMT.