By Rachel Hansen
of the Wenatchee World
Never mind that McCreery won the 2011 season of “American Idol,” then a month later, performed at the Grand Ole Opry. He broke a Guinness World Record as the youngest male to enter the U.S. album charts at No. 1. His first album, “Clear as Day,” went platinum in three months and was the highest-selling solo country album last year. He even released a Christmas album last month.
McCreery is caught between two worlds: his life as a college freshman at North Carolina State University, and his life on tour as a country music phenom. The stardom side began when he auditioned for “Idol” as a fresh-faced, 16 year old with an unusually deep voice.
“I’d been singing my whole life,” McCreery said. “ ‘Idol’ was something I’d watched for a few years. We had the frequent-flier miles and hotel points, so we treated it like a vacation.”
McCreery admits it took a while to get used to the limelight. His fans sometimes follow his tour bus out of town, or drive by his home to take pictures. He was once asked what his favorite candy was during an interview, and ever since, his fans give him Starburst and Tootsie Rolls at every show.
“They’re all very sweet to me, very kind,” he said, somewhat bashfully. “It’s always very flattering when they ask you to prom and the homecoming dance. I wish I could make them all, but this touring life and college life is kind of taking my schedule over for the next few or so.”
McCreery called in from Nashville last week to talk about how he keeps it real, despite his meteoric success:
Wenatchee World: What was that moment when you realized that you’re a recognized celebrity?
Scotty McCreery: Oh, man. It probably didn’t strike all of us until maybe top 24 and top 13 when they called us to the blue carpet. That was the first time we were in the public eye and people were taking pictures of us. We were like, ‘Oh my goodness, this is really happening.’ From then on out, it was more and more every day.
WW: What was your reaction to the publicity?
SM: At first it was a little scary, but once you get kind of used to it and you realize this is the new normal, the new life, and you just kind of go with it, enjoy it and have fun with it. Got to.
WW: You’re a freshman in college, and a Nashville star. How are you able to do both?
SM: I just kind of do it. I don’t know if there’s a particular formula that I follow. I just have class Monday and Wednesday, and tour Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. For me, my music has to be my No. 1 priority. We’ll see how it works coming down the road, but so far so good.
WW: Why didn’t you postpone school?
SM: It wouldn’t have been the same if I’d gone back in a couple of years. For me, going to college and getting an education has been really important to me, so I wanted to go as long as I could work it out. I’ve lived 17 years of my life knowing my friends and waking up in my hometown, and all of a sudden I’m thrown in the public eye, and loving every second of it, but I didn’t want to kick everything I’ve known for my whole life to the curb and say I’m moving on now. It’s good to go home and stay somewhat normal and grounded, but also still having the crazy touring life.
WW: But you said music comes first. Why is that?
SM: It has to. It’s my career, it’s something that I’ve loved my whole life. Now I finally have the chance of a lifetime to go out there and perform in front of the crowds and record my own music with a label in Nashville. I have to make that No. 1 priority. I work hard on my music, and on college. It’s just, in my mind, the way things have to be.
WW: Let’s talk about that voice for a second — did you train your voice to be that deep, or was it just genes?
SM: I guess it was genes. As far as training my voice for singing, I’ve had four years of classical training in chorus in high school. I was tenor my first few years there, so it wasn’t like I was trying to be deep. I guess you could say it was just genes, and I’m glad I got these genes. It got me a job.
WW: What is it like entering a genre where the average male country star tends to be older?
SM: I’m definitely young, I don’t think there’s been a teenage male to make it in country music. So, I’m still trying to create some longevity and make my mark. But I mean, we’ll see. I have some boundaries with my age. I’m not going to go out there and sing about drinking with the boys because number one, it ain’t legal and number two, it ain’t me. I have to be conscious of it.
WW: What do you think it’s going to take to establish yourself in country for the long term?
SM: Just some songs. Country music is all about the songs. Just in the last year or two, I won “Idol,” I won a couple New Artist of the Year awards, the Breakthrough Video award, I sold out shows around the country, but I haven’t had a No. 1 song yet. And country music, it’s all about the songs. I think if I get a couple big hits, I can be around for a while, but I’ve got to find them.
Hansen may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
WHO: Scotty McCreery with Jana Kramer opening
WHAT: Dad’s Weekend concert
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Beasley Coliseum, Washington State University, Pullman
TICKETS: $49.50 ($5 discount for WSU staff, faculty and students); available at all TicketsWest outlets including Beasley Coliseum, by phone at (800) 325-SEAT and online at www.ticketswest.com.