Scotty McCreery is not one to throw anything away. So, the Ford pickup truck he won during “American Idol” in 2011?
“Still got it,” he said on a recent walk through downtown Raleigh, nodding toward a Ford F-150 parked on Fayetteville Street. “I’ll drive it ’til the wheels fall off.”
It’s been seven years since McCreery, now 24, first gained national notice, when the deep-voiced Garner native crooned Josh Turner’s “Your Man” during “American Idol” auditions. Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler was one the judges, and he was impressed enough to burst out with a colorful phrase that stunned McCreery and the panel, thanks to a well-placed expletive.
An odd introduction, but it set McCreery on his way. He not only won that year’s “Idol,” he’s had a solid career since, which is not the case for every winner. This month, he even had his first-ever No. 1 country single, “Five More Minutes.”
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“It was a big mountain to climb,” McCreery said. “But this gives more validity to what I’ve been doing. Credibility as an artist has been the goal the last few years – to move away from the TV guy who was on ‘American Idol’ to be a country artist with songs and stories.”
“Five More Minutes” appears on McCreery’s upcoming album “Seasons Change,” which will be released March 16. It’s a slice of North Carolina with lots of local details, and even a beach song (“Barefootin’”). “Seasons Change” is McCreery’s first where he co-wrote every song, so it means a lot to him. He’ll be on the road playing its songs for most of 2018, missing out on his beloved Wolfpack’s post-season basketball run.
He sat down to talk the morning it became official that “Five More Minutes” had hit No. 1. He’s got more than a new album this year. A wedding is on the way, too.
Q: So was this your first album where you felt up to co-writing all the material?
A: Songwriting is something I love, but on my first few albums I was not in a place as a writer where I could do that. I was learning, and I still am, but the craft was not there yet. “See You Tonight” was my biggest hit until this and I wrote that one. But a full album, I was not ready until now. This is a lot more personal than any album I’ve ever made. The last two were fun to make and served us well. But “Walk in the Country” and “Blue Jean Baby,” those were just cool country songs that had nothing to do with me.
Q: You’ve lived almost a third of your life in public. What’s that been like?
A: “Idol” was seven years ago, which in the grand scheme of life, is not a long time. But from 17 to 24 is a time with a lot of change for anybody. We’ve all got to learn our lessons, no matter who we are. I have a real cool job and a few more people are watching, but I’ve been growing up like anybody else. I started this at 17 with no clue what I was doing. I was just a guy who watched “American Idol” and loved to sing, and it worked out.
Q: At the same time, there have been some bumps in the road with your career.
A: Professionally, 2016 was not fun. January began with me taping an “American Idol” mentor session and immediately finding out I was being dropped by my label (Universal Music). I’d had two Top 10 singles back to back, then one that didn’t work. Boom, I was out. That was a shock. With losing that deal came figuring out the “American Idol” deal I was locked into. So I spent every day in 2016 on the phone with my attorney and business manager figuring out that mess and where the next home for new music would be. It took until that December (2016), and here we are today.
Q: It seems to have worked out, with the success of “Five More Minutes.”
A: Coming off TV, I’d have loved to have No. 1 hits right off the bat. That would have been awesome. But it’s more fulfilling today to have worked toward that goal and then finally accomplish it. I had to pay some dues, and rightly so. I’m cool with that. I’m glad they made me work for it and didn’t just hand it to me. Early on, I found a lot of the radio gatekeepers to be intimidating. Nowadays we’re friends.
Q: Are you still taking classes at NC State?
No college. I tried for two-and-a-half years and really enjoyed my time at NC State. Learned a lot, went to class. I think some professors might have been harder on me, just so nobody would think they went easy. But I’m glad I did it. It’s an experience I wanted to have and look back on when I’m old. Down the road when I have more time, I would not rule out finishing up the degree. But right now there’s no time. I’ve never been as busy as this, even on the show.
Q: Somewhere in there, you’re also getting married this year to longtime girlfriend Gabi Dugal. When is the wedding?
A: Summertime. We’re trying to keep it low-key on the date. She’s a pediatric cardiac nurse at Duke Hospital, so I’ve learned not to complain about my day. I feel like I got really lucky. We met in kindergarten at Timber Drive Elementary, then Westlake Middle School, Garner High School. I’d always had my eye on her. Junior year was when I went to “Idol,” and senior year I was on the road with Brad Paisley. So I thought, “Unless I make my move, I’m gonna miss my chance.” Asked her if we were going out, she said yes and here we are six years later.
Q: Think you’ll be having kids?
A: Eventually. We’ll start with a dog, see if we can take care of that. But right now I’m the last McCreery male in the world. We’ll try to carry on the name and the family bloodline down the road.
Thad Ogburn and Robert Willett contributed to this report.