While Scotty McCreery is learning about American history, the 17-year-old country singer is also busy making some of his own.
In May, he won Season Ten of American Idol, becoming the youngest male winner in the show’s nine-year history. A record-breaking 122.4 million votes were cast for Scotty and runner-up Lauren Alaina. The final show garnered 29.3 million viewers and 38.6 million people tuned in to see the winner’s name announced.
A week later, he made country music history when his debut single, “I Love You This Big,” earned the highest debut for a new artist’s first single on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart since at least 1984. The song, which hit the Top 20 in seven weeks, is one of the fastest-rising debut singles for a new country artist in history.
He’s recording his debut album for Mercury Nashville/19 Recordings/Interscope. He recently made his Grand Ole Opry debut and performed with Josh Turner at Nashville’s LP Field during CMA Music Fest. He’s performed on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and the Today show. He is currently performing through September with the American Idols Live tour.
“I’ve always dreamed of having a career in country music,” Scotty says. “I just never thought it could happen. I had never really given myself a chance. Idol gave me the chance and I ran with it. I’m having a good time with it. It’s what I wanted to do and I’m making a career out of it.”
His debut single, “I Love You This Big,” was not only the perfect single to perform for American Idol’s finale moment, but it was a wonderful way to launch his country career. “It just thanks everybody,” he says. “You can take it to the fans, to my family or my savior Christ– ‘I love you this big.’ There are so many ways you can interpret this song, and that’s why I loved it so much, because anyone can relate to it. It fits me well and I hope I’ll be singing it for 30 years.”
Scotty’s debut album will offer the best of both worlds – traditional country with a contemporary flavor. “My music is obviously country and it has some old influences in it,” he says. “I grew up with Hank Williams and Conway Twitty. I listened to other artists like Tim McGraw and Josh Turner too, but I love a contemporary feel with an old soul in it.”
And that’s exactly how his producer, Mark Bright, describes him. “He is an old soul. It is an incredible thing, that someone that age fully understands what is before him and is completely unaffected by that. I have never seen anything like it in my life. He loves it and he understands the opportunity he’s been given and he wants to work, work, work to take advantage of that opportunity.”
Although much of the nation is already familiar with Scotty’s rich baritone voice, Mark says Scotty will reveal a few surprises on his debut album. “His voice is shockingly great,” he says. “Everybody knows Scotty has a deep voice, but what a lot of people don’t know is that he has a pretty high range. His listeners will get to hear the nuances, emotions and actual range of his voice.”
Scotty, who was born in Raleigh, N.C., and raised in Garner, N.C., grew up in a musical household with his older sister, Ashley. By age 3, he was singing “The Muffin Man” to anyone who would listen, and a few years later he was repeating the words of those around him in a song. His father, an electric systems analyst, and his mother, a real estate agent and school teacher, sang in the church choir, as did their children. “I was the first one who ventured out to do different things,” says Scotty, who performed church solos.
His grandmother gave Scotty a book on Elvis Presley when he was in pre-school, so Scotty began walking and talking like The King. His mother listened to artists such as Conway Twitty while driving, and Scotty quickly fell in love with those sounds. He still vividly remembers his first country concert, a show featuring George Strait, Reba McEntire and Lee Ann Womack.
He began guitar lessons at age 10 and was so hooked that he started sleeping with the instrument. “I would wake up and have my guitar and my friends would be sleeping,” he says. “They would give me a look and I’d be like, ‘All right,’ and put the guitar down so they could go back to sleep. But they were really accepting of it. They would say, ‘Learn this song,’ and I would play it for them. When we became teenagers, we would drive around listening to ‘Your Cheating Heart’ and ‘Okie From Muskogee.’”
Scotty sang in his school choirs since elementary school, including the high school group that travels nationally and consistently wins competitions. His voice dropped dramatically when he was about 13. “I didn’t notice a difference, but my mom said it fell off a cliff,” he says. “There was no real cracking.”
He wasn’t happy when he remained assigned to the choir’s tenor section. “I picked him up from school one afternoon and he had a big math test,” his mother, Judy, recalls. “He said, ‘Mom, I have big news, really big news!’ I said, ‘Oh, you killed the math test.’ He said, ‘No, much bigger than that. She put me on bass in chorus!’ It was that big on his radar screen in life.”
He performed locally at Christmas events and at Bullfeathers Restaurant. His rendition of label mate Jamey Johnson’s hit “In Color” helped him win Clayton Idol and gave him the confidence to perform more frequently in public.
His parents, as well as his chorus teacher, believe something else gave Scotty the confidence to perform in public – pitching baseball. Following in the footsteps of his father, who was also a baseball pitcher, Scotty learned to pitch at an early age. “When you are a pitcher, all eyes are on you,” says his mother, Judy. “You have to be focused and able to handle pressure.” It turns out that Scotty is as pitch-perfect on the mound as he in onstage: in his last varsity high school game, he pitched a complete shut-out and struck out nine batters.
Of course, he had an even better season on American Idol. He was attending church camp during last summer’s American Idol auditions in Nashville, so he auditioned in Milwaukee strictly for the adventure of it all. “It was just a summer vacation for us just to see what they would say to me and what feedback I would receive,” says Scotty, who worked part time at a grocery store before the show. “Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to be the next American Idol.”
The advice he got during American Idol is the same he’s been receiving from country legends such as Roy Clark, Mel Tillis and Charley Pride: don’t change. “The reason I made it this far is that I was real on television,” he says. “I didn’t try to be somebody I wasn’t. What you see is what you get – Scotty on TV, Scotty off of TV. I think that is why I have come this far. I don’t plan on changing. I don’t think Hollywood or Nashville will get to me.”