It's a bit like the chicken and egg predicament.
What comes first, lyrics or melody? There's no empirical answer for Jesse McCartney — the process varies.
Although his songwriting is embedded in personal experiences and others he witnesses, McCartney sometimes wonders about the genesis of his tunes.
"Is it that the music I listen to goes in and makes an impression and gets all stirred up with other songs and comes out as something completely new?" the Los Angeles-based musician and actor said via email. "Or are some melodies just imprinted on a person when they're born?"
McCartney will perform a medley of old and new numbers Friday at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater. Along with DJ Pauly D, he will open for the Backstreet Boys.
Prior to leaving the dressing room, the singer, who last performed in Irvine with The New Kids On The Block in 2009, plans to join his band and crew in a huddle. This tradition, which starts with a prayer and ends on a cheer, unites the entire group, he said.
Born to Scot and Ginger McCartney in Ardsley, New York, he was first exposed to local community theater when he was 7. He picked up singing since his parents, both actors, loved the sound of music in their home.
Accompanying them to auditions, where he watched other youngsters try out for roles, McCartney knew intuitively that this was the path for him.
"I was really lucky at such a young age to find I had a talent for something that I could get paid for," he reflected. "As I kept doing it, the roles just got bigger and better until I was making a living. It was a natural progression."
Growing up, McCartney starred in "Oliver," "The King and I," "A Christmas Carol" and "A Salute to Broadway," and sang with the singing troupe Sugar Beats. These opportunities led to the role of Adam Chandler Jr. on the popular TV show, "All My Children," and a spot in the pop boy band, Dream Street.
Nearly two decades later, the 26-year-old hasn't had his fill of performing. Acting and singing come to McCartney fairly easily, he said, but it takes hours and hard work to perfect a role or song. Watching the final product come together in the end is the "best reward," he said.
While his 2003 EP — featuring "Beautiful Soul," which soared to No. 15 on the Billboard 200 — made McCartney a household name, the breakthrough represented a confluence of fortunate events.
"At the time 'Beautiful Soul' came out, I was on a TV series called 'Summerland' and I also still had Dream Street's fanbase supporting me," he recalled. "So what looks like a singular breakthrough is actually a bunch of pieces all coming together at the same time — the perfect storm."
In 2008, "Leavin'" reached No. 1 on Billboard's Mainstream Top 40, which McCartney credited to the success of "Bleeding Love," co-written with Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic the previous year.
With time, his sound has evolved, McCartney said, as has he, personally. The character of each album reflects his own changing preferences — "Departure" spotlights an urban-pop feel and his upcoming releases offer a "throwback" sound, for which Michael Jackson, Motown and '80s dance music provided inspiration.
A contributor to Disney soundtracks, including "A Cinderella Story," "That's So Raven" and "Hannah Montana," McCartney casted a glance around the music industry. Lana Del Rey, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, and Imagine Dragons top his list of influences for creating a stir on their own terms.
Having taken a leaf from their book, McCartney revealed that his upcoming album will be released independently. Major labels didn't force his hand by not demonstrating interest, he clarified. Instead, he chose to have full control.
Keenly aware of listeners' desires, McCartney plans to end the wait — an EP will follow close on the heels of his current tour.
"It's a taste of what's to come," he said. "Now that I'm independent, I didn't want the fans to have to wait any longer for a full album — it's been too long."
On Friday, the audience, featuring friends and family from McCartney's nearby hometown, will be treated to three new creations. He's excited for the concert, he admitted, because his "Southern Californian fans [are] some of the best looking...in the country."
McCartney's list of honors includes nominations for a Grammy Award and a Daytime Emmy, multiple Teen Choice Awards and many more. They serve as reminders of his past recognition, but aren't the goal he works toward. Quite simply, he is drawn to a career in music because it allows him to entertain people and earn an income.
Thinking back to a recent visit to an Arizona radio station, McCartney recounts meeting a girl who was in tears when she revealed his name tattooed on her arm.
"She said it was because at one point in her life, she was feeling suicidal...but one of my songs saved her," he said, unable to remember the tune's name. "Like I said, I do what I do because I love it, but when I hear stories like that, I feel really good about the effect it can have on other people's lives."
If You Go
What: Backstreet Boys with Jesse McCartney and DJ Pauly D
Where: Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, 8808 Irvine Center Drive, Irvine
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Cost: $18 to $589
Information: http://www.livenation.com or (949) 855-8095