Up-and-coming Disney Channel star China Anne McClain plays guitar, bass and piano and knows how to belt out a tune.
But the 12-year-old Decatur native still has a lot to learn about music if she is ever going to catch up with Chyna Parks, the 11-year-old she plays in the new TV series,"A.N.T. Farm."
"I'm learning some of the instruments she plays," China told the Patch. "I'm learning violin, which is a tough one. It's a challenge but it's fun learning it."
China, best known as Jazmine Payne on TBS' "Tyler Perry's House of Payne" since 2006, moved to Los Angeles a couple of years ago to bolster her acting career. The move paid dividends almost immediately. In 2009, she had a guest star role on tween favorite "Hannah Montana." Last year, the Jonas Brothers featured her on the JONAS L.A. soundtrack.
Starting with the series premiere June 17, China becomes the focal point of "A.N.T. Farm," a comedy about gifted middle school students in San Francisco who are placed in the high school Advanced Natural Talent (ANT) program.
"Everyone in the program is very gifted," she explained. "I play a musical prodigy. Others are talented in art and mathematics. We're very young and the high school students don't want us there. They think we're ruining everything but my character doesn't care what people think of her. She's like, 'Whatever. Get out of my way.' She's out to make the best of her high school experience."
China says her character is hugely self-confident, a character trait she loves to play. For the young actress, self-confidence helped her with the move from Georgia.
"In Georgia, everybody knew everybody. It was a fun place to be. Everybody was so sweet," she recalled. "But in Los Angeles it's more brutal. It's the place where everything happens. My parents have taught me to have tough skin and to let stuff roll off my back. And it does."
By comparison, working on "House of Payne" was like being among family members, she pointed out to Patch.
"I was young and I had to grow up and learn what to do on the set," China said. "On this series, there's a lot more responsibility and a lot more kids my age. I'd never really gotten to work with kids my age."
China is part of a show biz family. Her father is a music producer, vocalist, writer and sound engineer. Her mother is a songwriter and also a vocalist. Little surprise, then, that China and her two older sisters, Lauryn and Sierra, formed the singing group, III. Or that China's prize possession is the custom Fender Stratocaster guitar given to her as a present by Nick Jonas.
The young actress is the voice you'll hear on the title song and will likely sing on every episode. So, yes, expect a CD release of the show's soundtrack, perhaps in time for holiday shopping.
Being a star doesn't lighten her school work load, China said.
"I have to make good grades or I can't act," she said. "That's the deal my parents made with me. I either get good grades or I can't do this."
In the show, her "A.N.T. Farm," parents are played by Finesse Mitchell and Elise Neal. The series was created by Dan Signer, whose previous creations include Disney hit, "The Suite Life of Zach and Cody."