Two decades after her wildly successful Disney Channel series "The All-New Mickey Mouse Club" came to an end, Jennifer McGill is stepping back into the spotlight with her upcoming debut full-length solo album, "Unbreakable" - to be released in August. It's hard to believe that 20+ years have passed since the show affectionately referred to as "MMC" launched the careers of McGill and her talented castmates that included Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, JC Chasez, Ryan Gosling and Keri Russell, among others.
McGill hopes that "Unbreakable" will be able to inspire and encourage others because there's an element in every song that reminds us we're not battling alone. "So many of us put borders on ourselves and I think for women especially there's this idea that you're past your expiration date when you hit a certain age, which in my case was only compounded with the celebrity comparisons I used to put on myself. This album paints a picture of old hurts and old mistakes, but also coming out on the other side and not just surviving but thriving."
The album includes production from GRAMMY Award winning producer Jeff Savage, Michael Whitaker and McGill's husband Jeff Bohannon, plus mixing by multiple GRAMMY Award winner Paul Salveson.
"Unbreakable" is McGill's story, and one she's ready to share with the world. "This is definitely the story of a girl who slipped through the cracks on so many levels, but after so much pain and rejection from a multitude of situations in my life, I'm finally at a place where I'm fearless."
Q: From a young age you were part of "The All-New Mickey Mouse Club." How did you get involved in this show?
At age 10, I was discovered by an agent, Juli Erickson, at a talent competition. On a handshake with my mother, Juli began submitting me for film and TV auditions, the first big one being for the movie, Why? Because We Like You about the original Mouseketeers. I was cast in the movie, but the Writers Guild of America strike of 1988 made further production impossible. I was then forwarded to the final auditions for "The All-New Mickey Mouse Club" TV show in Orlando, FL, where Casting Director, Matt Casella, chose me as a Mouseketeer!
Q: Through the show you were able to meet some great celebrities including Celine Dion. Tell us about your encounter with Celine?
I was 15 years old when The Disney Channel sent a handful of Mouseketeers, including me, to perform for "Bill Clinton's Inaugural Celebration for the Youth" show at the Kennedy Center in 1993. I was geeking out about seeing many of my favorite celebrities, including sitting in on Boyz II Men's exquisite mic check and hearing Will Smith introduce us during the show! As everyone lined up backstage to join Kenny Loggins in the finale song, I was too nervous to realize that Celine Dion was standing right in front of me. When she heard me comment to someone behind me, "I hope I don't mess this up!", she turned right around to me and exclaimed, "You're going to be wonderful!", she flicked her hands like a fairy godmother, as if casting a spell of perfection over me. She was so sweet and positive, and still to this day one of my favorite singers! Her positive spirit did its job because I didn't mess up the finale!
Q: Some of your co-stars went on to become big pop stars. You were also offered a recording contract, how come that didn't work out?
At 22, I was offered a recording contract with Capitol Records, but my manager and I agreed that it was in my best interest to negotiate further. By the time we would've gotten that ball rolling, all parties lost interest, except me of course! I sang for a lot of big labels' representatives during that time, but no one else took a chance on me. I remember getting feedback like "You're a little old for what we're shooting for...If rock pop were still 'in' you'd be perfect...Your sound is a little more 'deep' than what's hot right now...Can you lose more weight?"
Q: Do you have any regrets now looking back at your childhood show days? Would you recommend parents to send their kids to star in some big TV show?
My only regret from my "MMC" days is that I didn't fully embrace my God-given uniqueness. Most moments onstage were bliss, but offstage I never stopped comparing myself to others and feeling like I was "less than". I can see now that I was a special little spit-fire who handled that job like a boss, and that should have been enough to feel good about myself. Yet even with all of the memories of social awkwardness, I would still do it all over again. I loved that job, and I love all of my Mouseketeer brothers and sisters.
Therefore, I don't steer parents away from considering an opportunity for their kid to have an amazing experience like mine. However, I encourage parents to be heavily involved in the business aspect and protection of their kid's best interest, as well as to provide as much emotional and spiritual support as possible, in order to keep everybody well grounded in priorities like family values and self worth. It is very easy to sell your soul to show business, and I believe that one of the biggest reasons why I am spiritually healthy today is because of the seeds of faith that my family planted within me, the truth that God created me with beautiful uniqueness and purpose which is not meant to be ruled by the world's opinion of me. It can be tough to teach a kid that God is cooler than fame, but I believe it's essential to survive the showbiz life like I have!
Q: After the show, you went through a lot including your mother's death and some time of soul searching, how did you re-discover Christ and the Christian faith?
I was never mad at God for my mother's passing and I never left the faith, but I didn't know how to spiritually move forward through the pain of missing my mother, essentially how to fill the hole in my heart with Jesus. When Mom was no longer around to give me advice or to see how I lived my life, I gradually stopped listening for God's input, which gradually whittled my faith down to merely going through the motions of what I thought a Christian life was supposed to look like on the surface. Behind closed doors, I sank deeper and deeper into a state of loneliness and brokenheartedness, which led to a very dismal existence of isolating myself from my closest family and friends.
I woke up one day feeling trapped in an unhealthy life that I didn't want, so I got down on my knees and rededicated my heart to Jesus. I confessed that I had gotten myself into the mess that was my life because I hadn't listened to God, and now I never wanted to make decisions without Him again. I am so grateful that He swiftly opened doors of opportunity for me to learn more about Him and His Word. God gave me exactly what I needed to break free of my spiritual chains and the shame of my past mistakes. He upgraded me to a new level of understanding His will for my life and confidence that I am not past my prime of purpose!
Q: What then led you to the recording of your new album "Unbreakable"?
I had given my dream of being a recording artist back to God years ago, and wasn't expecting to make an album like "Unbreakable" ever! I was in the middle of finishing the script for the live show "Freedom Fighters: Live Fearless", when the request came in to add a few original songs into the show. I was very excited to start cowriting songs again after over a decade of not making much time for it. In less than a year, the team realized we had enough of an original collection to make a full-length cohesive solo album project, which was a surprise to all of us!
It's been really cool to switch my focus to making this album the best that it can be and to have a collection of songs I am in love with! I left a piece of my heart within each song, long before I knew the full scope of what God was going to do with the album, and I trust that this album is part of God's plan for my life because I had nothing to do with the planning! I just showed up, used what God gave me to work with, and He took it to the next level!
Q: How would you describe your sound and the nature of the songs on this new record?
My vocals reflect my love and respect for voices like Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Ann Wilson, Mariah Carey, Pink, and Kelly Clarkson (just to name a few), and the fact that I've been compared to those amazing women favorably is an honor! I describe "Unbreakable" as Pop/Inspirational. I grew up on hymns and Top 40s Pop, and I have sung both in church and in pop culture environments for over 30 years. Therefore, to truly represent the artist I have become, "Unbreakable" is a cool hybrid of everything I love about music and the power of God, from my church girl upbringing to what gets me groovin' to the beat and feelin' all the feels!
Q: How do you wish this new record could impact the lives of your listeners?
My goal with "Unbreakable" was to make sure no fan felt excluded from enjoying my music if they weren't at the same place I am at with my faith. I want every "New Mickey Mouse Club" fan to rock out in their cars to my music as much as I want a church youth group to be able to share this music with their visiting friends! Through "Unbreakable", I sing my heart out to sick tracks and deep lyrics that spread my message of faith, healing, and the power of loving yourself, loving God, and loving others!
Q: After all that you have gone through, what does faith in Christ mean to you now?
My faith in Christ is a living, breathing relationship that is not trapped in a book or reserved only for Sundays. When I go through a tough time or don't understand something about the challenges of life, I don't question Christ's love for me. And the number one thing Christ's life inspires me to strive for is loving myself and others like he calls his followers to do.