Masked Singer Runner-Up Jesse McCartney Reveals 'Heartbreaking' Career Moments, Why He Competed

"Things like that happened several times over the course of my career," season 3's runner-up tells PEOPLE of losing the role

This post contains spoilers from Wednesday's season 3 finale of The Masked Singer.

Turtle took home second place during Wednesday's Masked Singer finale and revealed the beautiful soul under the spiked mohawk as pop star Jesse McCartney. Though many millennials might know the 33-year-old from his Dream Street and Summerland days, McCartney wanted to do the show to reconnect with his fans in 2020.

"I'm not sure a lot of people know what I am capable of," he tells PEOPLE. "Maybe they'll listen to some of my earlier music and that's kind of where it ended for them. So this was an opportunity for me to pick back up."

What the "Friends" singer originally knew about the Fox singing competition he had learned from his friend, previous collaborator and season 1 winner T-Pain. "I had seen a couple of his episodes and thought it was such a bizarre thing," McCartney says of the show. "But I saw what he was able to do for himself on that show because I think T-Pain he had a lot to prove in terms of his vocal ability. When I saw what he was able to do I thought, this is a platform I can use to show my vocal capabilities."

Jesse McCartney
Jesse McCartney; Turtle. ZAK BENNETT/AFP via Getty; FOX

McCartney had to keep his identity quiet while doing The Masked Singer, so he didn't get to talk to the rapper, 34, about the experience until filming ended. "He's like, 'Yeah man, but I came in first,' " McCartney quips.

The former boy band member — who will appear Thursday on Fox's Celebrity Watch Party — reveals if he still talks to any of the Dream Street guys, the action movie he almost starred in and the status of his wedding plans with fiancée Katie Peterson.

You talked on the show early on about not burning out. How did you ensure your career kept progressing after starting young in show business?

I started at the age of 7 doing local community theater with my folks, eventually snowballing it into this professional thing and it's been a slow and steady process for sure. It was never a quick ride to the top. It was years of work and effort not only by myself, for my entire family. A lot of people can just skyrocket to the top, but it's never been that way for me and still isn't. There's still a ton of things I have yet to accomplish that I know I'm going to accomplish, it just takes time. Everything is timing. I think the biggest lesson I've learned is: You have to wait your turn. Despite being great at something, if the timing isn't right, the timing isn't right. Right now more than ever I feel like whatever is happening, this energy between the show and the new music coming out, everything feels like it's looking up in a really positive way. It's been a slow and steady climb as they say on the show.

Jesse McCartney
Jesse McCartney (center) with Dream Street in 2002. John Shearer/WireImage

How do you look back on the Dream Street days? Are you in touch with any of the guys?

I don't keep in touch with really any of them except Matt [Ballinger]. I still talk to Matt from time to time and he did hit me up halfway through the season and said, "Hey man, I know that's you behind the Turtle mask." And of course, I can't reply because I can't confirm to anybody. But after tonight, I'm sure I'm going to be hearing from him.

The judges thought early on that you were a boy band member — is that something you try to get away from?

It was sort of a natural guess, right? A white, soulful singer doing dance moves on stage, it felt like an appropriate thing. I wasn't upset with any of the guesses, but some of them didn't make any sense. You thought I was Jaden Smith? Seriously? I love Jaden Smith don't get me wrong, but we sound nothing alike. When Jenny McCarthy finally guessed me on air I was kind of like, what do I do behind the mask?

I thought the Zac Efron guess was funny considering your Summerland connection.

I thought so too. I expected maybe that would come out eventually. I wasn't expecting Chris Evans. I don't even know if he sings. But that was an interesting guess. Getting people like Gavin DeGraw or Billie Joe [Armstrong], two people I really admire, was really great.

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What were some of those opportunities that you missed out on, those “almost moments” that you referenced in your clue packages?

When I was like 21 or 22 years old, I had booked one of the lead roles in M. Night Shyamalan's new movie The Last Airbender. It was going to be my first big studio picture. I was very excited and it was a tens of millions of dollars budget film. I took kung fu lessons on the lot for like five or six weeks, I was training on cables, I was doing what people do when they're training for a big action movie. We signed all the contracts, I was paid for the movie and three days before I was supposed to leave for Greenland, I got a call from my agent that I've been replaced for political reasons. It was something completely out of my control. It was a deal that had been made behind closed doors. M. came up to me a year later I think at the American Music Awards and said, "Hey, I just want you to know I loved your performance. You were my guy. It was a political move."

But things like that happened several times over the course of my career that were just heartbreaking moments. When you're 21, it's a lot harder to handle it. Now I feel like I'm a lot more resilient, but at the time those are really tough moments to get past. Certainly failed singles for sure, other television shows. I shot a show for Spielberg that they said was going to be the next "this" and they didn't even pick it up. There’s just moments like that that happen in anybody’s career. With any success, there's tons of failure. Probably many more failures than there are successes. It's been a slow and steady climb.

Are you looking to do more acting in the future?

For sure. Right now the music is definitely in the front seat. I finished an album for the first time in like five, six years, the new single just dropped today. So as of right now, it's pretty much all about my music. When I'm done with this music cycle, I'm going to get back into acting. I'd love to do more writing and producing of my own, whether it's short-form content or more of an episodic kind of thing. I don't know, but a 100 percent acting is what I originally set out to do before music became the center of my career.

It seems like with the newer songs you’ve retired your tagline “that thing you got behind you is amazing.” How did that originate and have we heard the last of it?

It originated in "Leavin'" when "Leavin'" came out and "girl, that thing you got behind you is amazing" became kind of a classic line. Then a year later we did a re-release of the album called Departure Recharged and on that album we had done "Body Language" that I wrote and T-Pain featured on. I said to the writers that I was working with that we should reuse that line from "Leavin'" because it has been such a success ... It fit the song perfectly given the lyrical content. It just kind of became a thing and now in every live show that's a line that everybody loves to sing. It was just kind of one of those fun writer moments.

Which song do people always want to hear?

You can't not play the hit songs. I think that's why people ultimately buy tickets to your show, so that they can see their favorite songs that they listen to over the years. My mantra is two for them, one for me. So for every two songs I play for the fans, I play one for myself to get them acquainted with the new music as well.

Jesse McCartney and Katie Peterson
Jesse McCartney and Katie Peterson. Presley Ann/Patrick McMullan via Getty

You also gave a few engagement clues on the show, but have you paused wedding plans for now given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic?

Unfortunately, we've been sort of putting everything on pause. We can't really tour any venues or go to any resorts or anything because everything is shut down. We were on par to do something next spring and hopefully, we'll be okay by then. But it all depends. Hopefully, this thing doesn't have a second wave. We're very hopeful.

Will you and Katie be doing more episodes of Quarantined Couple?

We're going to try and get back to you making more quarantine videos because we were doing great and then we kind of got sidetracked with the new music that I was releasing and stuff. So we're going to try and put some more together and keep releasing them because it seems like people really dig them. As I watch the ever-shifting paradigm in this industry, particularly with social media, people are definitely interested in what you ate for lunch just as much as they are your single.

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