Onward and upward from American Idol
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When you win American Idol at the age of 17, you’ve got plenty of time to evolve and still be at the beginning of your career. That’s the situation that Scotty McCreery finds himself in eight years after he became the champion of Idol’s tenth season.
Now he’s got a new album that’s more representative of what he wants to do with his career than any of his other albums, and he’s hitting heights that he never reached even at the pinnacle of his Idol exposure.
Not that the Idol win wasn’t a very big deal. McCreery was still in high school in North Carolina when he auditioned for the show, and while he was competing, the producers required that his mother stay with him in Los Angeles. His faceoff in the finale against 16-year-old Lauren Alaina was the youngest final round in the show’s history.
The wave of Idol success generated a record deal with Mercury Nashville and two albums, 2011’s Clear As Day and 2012’s Christmas with Scotty McCreery. See You Tonight followed on Motown Records in 2013.
Clear As Day made an impressive splash. It sold almost 200,000 copies in its first week and debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart. It was the first debut album by a country artist to bow at number one and the youngest number-one debut by a male artist. It was also the first Idol debut album to hit number one since Ruben Stoddard did it in 2003.
But major record labels are notoriously fickle, and when See You Tonight didn’t perform up to the first album’s stratospheric standards, McCreery’s record label dropped him. He was 22 years old when it happened, and he wasn’t ready to quit just yet.
Instead, in the midst of legal battles over the future of his career, he got to work writing his own songs, something he hadn’t been encouraged to do by his label. He’d been singing and recording other people’s music, but he knew he had some things of his own to say.
In Search of the Songs
“At first, it actually started pretty simple,” he said of the process. “We were just looking for the best songs. But then as my life got more complicated, I knew I wanted to make a record that was a lot more personal, and I felt that writing more myself would help capture that.”
He looked for collaborators, music-industry veterans who could help him craft his ideas into songs for a new album.
“I wanted to write with everybody,” he said. “I was just trying to be a sponge and soak up all I could. It really set me up to where I could write every song on the record, and not feel like I was compromising the quality of what I was singing.”
The very first song he wrote was “Seasons Change,” and it felt like a pivotal moment.
“That was my first time diving back into music after dealing with lawyers for a year, and I felt rejuvenated,” he said. “I decided that very day that it was going to be on the record.”
But there was no record yet. McCreery was still without a label and had no prospects for releasing a new album even if he had more than enough songs to make one.
That changed when he wrote “Five More Minutes,” an emotional song that came to him after his grandfather died.
“I knew it was a special song,” he said. “I tweeted that day that we just wrote my favorite song I’d ever written.”
He made the decision to release the song as a single even without the backing of a record label. It was a bold move, and it was far from the standard way of doing things.
“Most sane people would have said to wait,” he said, “but my management and I really believed in it, and at the core of country music, it still comes down to the song. And we were willing to bet on that. We knew it might take a while, but we felt like we could do it and build something one step at a time.”
Hitting No. 1
It didn’t take a while, though. The song rocketed up the charts, eventually becoming the first number-one single of McCreery’s career.
“Sometimes you feel like you’ve really got to sell something,” McCreery said, “but this one, from the first time people heard it, everybody started telling me their own stories, and I enjoyed that more than anything else.”
The result was a record deal with a new label and the release of Seasons Change in March 2018. The second single from the album, “This Is It,” became McCreery’s second number-one hit just a couple of months later. That song was a marker for another huge change in McCreery’s life, his marriage to his childhood sweetheart.
“She’s a huge part of this record, the inspiration for all the love songs,” he said. “We met in kindergarten. Her kindergarten diary has ‘Mrs. McCreery’ written in it with hearts around it. We started dating senior year of high school, and became best friends in the last few years.”
McCreery put together a tour for Seasons Change, a triumphant return to the road for a career that’s both resurgent and brand new at the same time. He’s learned from his TV-born success how to play in the big leagues, and now he’s learning how to do it on his own terms.
When McCreery comes to the Honeywell Center, he’ll be joined by another rising country star with a TV background. Emily Ann Roberts, 20, was a finalist on season nine of The Voice in 2015, and now she’s working hard to build a career.
Perhaps she can find inspiration in McCreery, whose very early start puts him in the position for a career renaissance while he’s still a very young man.
“I’ve lived a lot of life since my last record,” said Scotty McCreery. “I really wanted this album to show who Scotty is at 24, what’s going on in my life, and I think we accomplished that.”