Story by Sandra Davidson | Archival footage courtesy Scotty McCreery
Scotty McCreery was only 17 when he won American Idol in 2011. Viewers of the hit singing competition TV series fell in love with his authentic charm and powerful deep voice, which also impressed the show’s judges. During his audition tape, judge Randy Jackson remarked, “Dude. Love you. Love that you’re a throwback country guy singing low like that.”
It was and remains a fair characterization of Scotty’s music.
Eight years after Idol, Scotty is on the brink of releasing Seasons Change, his fourth studio album which drops on March 16. A life-long fan of old-school country—think George Jones, Conway Twitty and Ronnie Milsap—fans can expect the new album to be even more country than his previous three, which included the platinum-certified Clear as Day (2011) and gold-certified Christmas with Scotty McCreery.
The bright lights and big achievements haven’t blinded Scotty to his roots. Scotty spends most of his downtime in North Carolina. Success has only made him more grateful for where he’s from.
We are here today in the Garner Performing Arts Center, so it seems fitting to begin by talking about growing up in Garner. What was it like?
I sang here quite a few times in my early days! It’s cool to be back here. Garner was a great place to grow up. They really embraced the arts. Garner had that small-town feel. High school football was king. Everybody would come out to the performances we had for chorus. I was in music education in schools from a very young age. They nurtured my love for singing and music and [they taught me] how to create music. It was huge for me to go to school and to have a whole hour to sing. That was my favorite time of day, every day.
What music did you grow up listening to?
My goodness. I was a young guy in the early nineties and 2000s, and all my friends were listening to the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC—and they’ve got some jams—but I listened to a lot of the older country music….Elvis Presley, Conway Twitty, Ronnie Milsap, Dolly, and Loretta. The older traditional music influenced me, and you can see that in my music today.
Why were you drawn to that kind of music?
I’m not sure what it exactly was. I do remember when I was like five-years-old my grandma gave me a book all about Elvis Presley, and I read it cover to cover and wanted all his CDs. I had a cassette with Elvis on one side and Little Richard on the other, and I wore that thing out. That’s just what I gravitated towards. That’s just who I am.
Do you see a connection between the values you were raised around and the type of music you like to make?
Absolutely. Elvis was from a very small town [and so were] a lot of the other folks. They’re just typical hard-working folks who grew up and had a chance to sing music. That was me! I was a local grocery store bagger here in Garner, and all of a sudden, I got this big chance and now I get to sing country music for a living. I never forget my roots or where I came from. The values I learned here — hard work, perseverance, dedication to what you’re doing — it’s stuff that I still carry over today, and I try to sing about.
How has North Carolina influenced the way you think about music and make music?
There were a lot of big acts from North Carolina that I listened to growing up. Randy Travis and Ronny Millsap are two guys I listened to constantly. Every artist is different, but I try to think about their sounds, their music, their words, how they told a story when I’m writing songs.
You're six years out from American Idol. How has your relationship to this state changed?
I think over the years I’ve gotten a better appreciation for Garner [and] for North Carolina. Especially with all the traveling I’m doing. They say there’s no place like home, and that’s the truth. Nothing beats getting back home, seeing my old friends, going back to the high school and seeing old teachers. I think my appreciation for North Carolina’s just gone up. I love this place. I really do.
What’s it like to play music for North Carolinians after being on the road?
Nothing beats North Carolina to me. I’ve traveled all the way around the world. I’ve hit every state in this country except Alaska, but I’ve never found any place like North Carolina. It’s like a homecoming for me every time. It’s cool to see the [people] that gave me the support through the show. I really appreciate them.
Are there places in Garner or in North Carolina that you visit when you’re seeking creative inspiration?
There are a lot of little places I like to go to recharge the batteries and get creative in North Carolina. Recently my favorite spot has been the mountains. I only went there to ski when I was younger, but in the last three or four years I’ve really rediscovered the place in the summer and found swimming holes and hiked, and it’s just cool to get away from the hustle and bustle of everything and be out there in nature. It’s refreshing.
A number of North Carolinians have done well on American Idol. What do you think that’s about?
I don’t know! I do think North Carolina tries very hard to nurture the arts, to embrace the arts, and to teach the arts. I’m sure that has a lot to do with it. Also, I just think there’s a lot of crazy talented folks. I’m just amazed [by] the incredible local talent around Garner.
How can we better support and engage artists?
When I was growing up the schools were really all about the arts, and they’re still pretty good…but nowadays they’re cutting funding in certain parts of the school and the first place they always want to look is the arts, and I’m like no! That’s where folks learn to think outside of the box, think creatively, think differently than the person sitting right next to them at their desk. Everybody knows the exact formulas for math and science, but there’s no one way to do music or arts, so for that’s my biggest thing…really supporting the arts in the schools.
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