LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Former teen music idol Jesse McCartney is shaking off his family friendly image and giving audiences a glimpse of a new, darker side next week playing a murder suspect on TV crime drama "Law and Order: SVU."
"I have a good feeling about this role. People will be shocked by what they see," said the 21-year-old McCartney, who first stepped into Hollywood's limelight at age 12 when he joined boy band Dream Street.
Four years later, McCartney launched his a solo career, becoming a household name and teen idol with his debut album, "Beautiful Soul," which sold over 1.5 million copies. That was followed by 2006 release "Right Where You Want Me."
Along the way, McCartney has been acting, too. Growing up, he appeared on daytime soap opera "All My Children," had a part in 2004 TV series "Summerland" and recently was the voice of Theodore in 2007 family movie, "Alvin and the Chipmunks."
But now, the New York-born McCartney is expanding into more adult fare. This past May, he released an R&B-flavored album named "Departure," his third with Disney's Hollywood Records, which he says reveals his maturity as a singer.
"It's a big jump from anything I've done musically," said McCartney who has no fears about alienating his fan base with his new choices.
"They've all grown up with me at this point. This is the road that I'm on right now and it's the road that I believe they (his fans) will join with me," McCartney told Reuters.
But following McCartney on that road will require his fans to let go of the family-friendly heartthrob they once knew.
"This character, Max, on 'Law and Order' is a huge jump for me," said McCartney, a self-described longtime fan of the crimeshow.
McCartney said the episode, which airs on November 11, is based on a true story about three teenage girls who decide to get pregnant at the same time before "it all goes wrong."
"I play a murder suspect, a super-Catholic conservative white boy. It's definitely a stretch and a leap. It's an emotional role," he said.
McCartney is following a path similar to that of former Disney child star, Hillary Duff, who recently ditched her clean-cut image to play a foul-mouthed, trashy Middle Eastern pop singer in the John Cusack-directed war satire "War Inc," which earned her critical praise.
"I'm with a label that is owned by Disney, and Disney had a hand in starting my career, which I appreciate. But they also know that at this point I'm going to be 22, and I'm a different person than the guy they signed at 15," he said.
"It's easy to fall into one category and be known for one thing, but I've always had a passion for acting and especially the darker, dramatic roles," McCartney said.
McCartney said he was preparing to go to college when his singing career beckoned, but he feels like he got a great education growing up on the road during this teenage years.
"I don't regret not going to college, but (sometimes) I think of going back or going to study history. I feel like I don't know enough or didn't learn enough about history," he said, adding he'd like to shoot historical films one day.
But for now, McCartney's reading scripts and looking for new acting parts.
"One of my biggest goals for 2009 is to build up my film repertoire. You'll be seeing me do film and TV a little more," he said.
Reporting by Sue Zeidler, Editing by Bob Tourtellotte