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Jacqueline Emerson may be in one of the biggest box office smashes of the year, but at the moment she's thinking mostly about graduating high school. As stealthy Foxface in "The Hunger Games," the 17-year-old delighted viewers as one of the few Tributes you simply couldn't hate (she didn't even try to kill anyone!), a part she filmed during the summer break before her senior year. Post-Panem, Emerson has a diverse set of interests and plans, including focusing on her Chinese fluency and releasing new music, including a music video for her tune, "Catch Me If You Can" and her first single "Peter Pan."
We chatted with Emerson about her college and career plans, what Adele song she jams to in the car, plus we found out she's a fan of one of our favorite Billboard topics (it starts with a Star, and ends with K-I-D.)
What was the process for being cast in "The Hunger Games"?
I actually had a very unorthodox process. They were interviewing kids who'd read the books to get their take on the series, so I did an interview for them and then a couple weeks later they called me and asked if I wanted to audition for Foxface. I've been acting since I was six years old, but not professionally. This is the best break I could have hoped for.
For you and the rest of the kids playing Tributes, was it a downer to be cast as a tribute knowing you're going to die?
Not really, the only part that was a downer was the last day we were on set together. We were all sobbing, holding each other, because we were not going to be on set together again, unless we coincidentally do a movie together. It was such an amazing experience, we had such an amazing director who really helped you get inside the character's head. They really became my family for the summer, and it was hard leaving them. Other than that I don't think there were any down moments.
What came first for you, acting or music?
They actually started at almost exactly the same time. I started piano lessons when I was four, I was being classically trained at the Colburn School. When I was six years old my friend was auditioning for Annie, and I decided I wanted to audition with her. My mom was worried I would fall flat on my face because I'd never opened my mouth to sing, so she sent me to vocal lessons. I did the audition and fell in love with the entire process of a show. I immediately started going to musical theater camp and acting school.
Do you have any musical influences?
For the longest time I was brought up listening to only two genres of music, pop and rock. So in the past few years I've been trying to expand my interests because I think that you can only write to the extent of your knowledge, and if your knowledge is limited you can't write past that. I've been listening to more jazz, more R&B. I've recently gotten really into country, it's my favorite station to listen to on my drive to school. In that respect I'm really inspired by Adele, just because her album was not classic pop by any means. She has R&B elements and jazz elements, something everyone can relate to. I hope when I get to make an album that has different musical genres in it, not just limited to one.
Which Adele song do you have on repeat right now, and which one would you want to cover?
Here's the thing, I'm obsessed with "Someone Like You" but I hate to say that because everyone in the world is obsessed with that song. Every time I listen to that song I want to cry, it hits some deep emotional cord in me. I'll be coming home from school and that one will come on the radio and I'll sing along at the top of my lungs. People in other cars will laugh.
What can you tell me about your new song "Catch Me If You Can?"
The inspiration for the song was running away from your past and eventually accepting it, because you can't run away from your past. It's not my usual sound, I must say. If you listen to my other song, "Peter Pan," it's not as pop I don't think as "Catch Me If You Can." It was kind of a different sound, it was more of an experimental thing. I had a blast recording it, and I think the music video was my favorite part of the whole experience. I got to shoot with all of my friends, including some of the cast of "The Hunger Games." We were all dancing on the beach together.
Your mix of talents seems like you'd be a good match for "Glee." Have you ever considered auditioning?
I haven't auditioned because I'm not 18 yet and I think they're pretty strict with the 18 line. I would love to be on Glee, it's one of my favorite shows and I think everyone on it is so talented. I've actually met Darren Criss at a couple parties, he's so cool.
I saw a picture of you with Darren and Joey Richter [from Team StarKid] at the "Hunger Games" premiere.
Yes! It was so funny because I was flipping out when I went up to meet them because I'm huge fans of both of them. I knew of Darren before "Glee" from StarKid with Joey. I'm so excited [about their tour], I'm definitely going to be there. I can't wait.
When you were younger you were part of Devo 2.0, an all-kids Devo tribute band. What was that experience like? Do you have a favorite Devo song, or are you totally sick of them now?
It was the premature rockstar experience. I was in sixth grade, we recorded music videos for all of the songs and we went on tour and performed at the House of Blues. I had a blast. My favorite Devo song is probably Beautiful World, because that was the one I got to sing the most on. I'm a little bit biased.
Are you focused more on music, TV or movies right now?
I'm not focused on television because I can't sign on for a season when I plan to go to college. I'm focused on movies and my music for now.
I saw you were accepted to Stanford, what do you want to study?
I'm hoping to do a double major in Chinese and performing arts. It's the weirdest combination. This is my fourth year (studying Chinese) and I've been to China twice. I love the language and I love the culture, and I hope to become fluent.
Do you want to combine the two into one?
I mean, maybe, potentially. But they're more separate for now!
What did you write your application essay about?
That's a good question! So my personal statement that i sent to all colleges was about when I was recording "Catch Me If You Can." About two seconds before I entered the recording studio I crashed my dad's car into the wall of the recording studio. I was sobbing, freaking out, it was a bad crash. I had to go in there and calm myself and perform this song. I had an adrenaline high, and then I was exhausted, and finally we had to turn off all the nights and I started dancing like a crazy person to get the song out.
Aside from school, what's next for you?
I've got a couple of acting projects that I can't talk about yet, and I'm also hoping to get back in the studio soon. I'm actually going to be releasing "Peter Pan" on iTunes by the end of this week. This is the first time I'm announcing that, actually.