‘Never in your wildest dreams’: Scotty McCreery talks about decade since winning ‘Idol’

·10 min read

In May 2011, Scotty McCreery became a household name when he won the 10th season of “American Idol.”

In the decade that has elapsed since, he’s released multiple albums, toured across the country and the world, and achieved chart-topping success.

But despite reaching the heights of country music fame, McCreery hasn’t gone far from home. Ten years after leaving his hometown of Garner to compete in the FOX singing reality competition, McCreery has remained in the Triangle, staying close enough to his Garner roots to drive back and see his parents and friends whenever he can.

“It’s no secret that I love North Carolina and I love Garner, and Raleigh,” McCreery said in an interview with The News & Observer this week. “They’ve had my back for 10 years now, and I think they’re a huge reason why I won the show in the first place, Idol. They were humongous during that, and ever since then, they’ve always been so supportive.”

On Friday, McCreery released “Same Truck,” his fifth studio album, and the follow-up to 2018’s “Seasons Change.” The 12-track album includes singles “Why You Gotta Be Like That,” and “You Time,” both of which were inspired by his wife Gabi, “Carolina To Me,” a song dedicated to the beauty of North Carolina, and “Damn Strait,” a tribute to legendary country music singer and songwriter George Strait.

McCreery, who splits his time between Raleigh and Nashville, returned to Garner on Friday to celebrate the release of “Same Truck” after nearly three years of work on the album, including a busy stretch of time during the pandemic when he was writing songs while appearing for more than 130 online performances.

“Anywhere I go in town people are saying, ‘Hey, we appreciate your music and we love what you’re doing,’ and that means the world to me,” McCreery told The N&O. “This is just a cool way for me to thank them.”

He also will appear at Schoolkids Records in Raleigh on Sept. 22, to sign CDs.

In the wide-ranging interview, McCreery, who turns 28 next month, talked about the message behind “Same Truck,” what it means to celebrate the new album with his hometown, and his growth over the last 10 years.

Some of the questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.

N&O: It’s been a little more than 10 years since you won “American Idol,” and you’re releasing your fifth studio album now. Did your 16-year-old self ever envision this happening?

McCreery: No, not at all. I auditioned for the show just kind of on a whim. I was confident and hoped things would happen, but you never in your wildest dreams think you’ll actually get on the show, let alone win it, and then get a career out of this. So it’s been an amazing ride, and we’ve had a lot of fun.

If you would’ve told me back then, on the show, that I’d be still doing this 10 years later and getting to make records and travel the country and the world, and people actually show up and come out and sing your songs and dance, I would’ve signed up for that in a heartbeat.

N&O: How does it feel, at this point in your career, to be getting ready to share this fifth album with the world?

McCreery: It feels great. When you make an album, it’s a lot of time that goes into it. We’ve been working on this thing since “Seasons Change” came out. We’ve got songs on this record that I wrote in 2015, so it goes all the way back, six years. Now that it’s finished, we’re ready to go out there and hope people enjoy it just as much as I enjoyed making it, and get something out of the album — something positive in this crazy world we’re living in right now.

N&O: You had an album that was almost ready before the pandemic struck, and it was quite different from “Same Truck,” which you’ve said is more reflective of the last decade you’ve spent making music professionally. What inspired you to change course with this album?

McCreery: I think it’s just the time that we had to make it. I think everything goes kind of cyclically. For me, I’m always writing songs, and it felt like before the pandemic, at least in my mind, I wasn’t writing my best stuff.

So, honestly, the pandemic struck and one of the silver linings through that, looking for one for me, was the amount of time that I had to sit down and pick up a guitar, and write songs again. Some of my best stuff I think I’ve ever written is on this record. It’s very personal, too — somewhat reflective and grateful. I haven’t had time to sit down and reflect like that since I was 15 years old — I’ve been going, going, going for 10 years now.

N&O: “Same Truck” kicks off with what is described as an “anthem to all the things we have in common.” Why did you choose that to be the focus of the title track?

McCreery: Over this past year and half, two years, it’s been a lot of craziness in the world, and divisiveness, and everybody just wants to argue about different things.

One of the things I always knew and have believed, but really learned over my last record with songs like “Five More Minutes” and “This Is It” and “In Between” — the songs are just so personal to me. I wrote them in my heart, from my perspective, my life.

But every day in meet and greets, every day on Instagram, on socials, people are reaching out saying, ‘Man “Five More Minutes” helped me so much here, and “This Is It” — me and my wife, or my husband, walked down the aisle to this song. So I think it’s a message we all need to hear, that we’re all on the same team here, we’re all a lot more alike than we are different. Let’s build each other up instead of tear each other down.

N&O: One of the songs you referenced, “The Waiter,” was written in 2015, and tells the story of a man who, decades after the death of someone he loved, continues to return every Friday night to the site of their first date. Why did you choose to release it now, six years later, and not on an earlier album?

McCreery: Yeah, this is one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written. It’s been a special one I’ve come back to when I’m driving around and I want to listen to songs I’ve written and go through them. I always come back to “The Waiter.”

It was going to make an album we were making in 2015 that never came out. And then our next album didn’t come out until 2018, when “Seasons Change” came out. It didn’t feel like it fit the album on “Seasons Change.”

But for this one, I felt like it had a place on the record, and I thought the story needed to be told. I just figured it’s been too long since I wrote it and not released it, so I was excited that it’s finally going to get a chance to get out there, and I hope people enjoy it as much as I do.

N&O: It seems the message of the song is to give people a second chance or the benefit of the doubt, and think twice about what others might be going through. Is that what you intended?

McCreery: That’s definitely one of the big takeaways from this song, just knowing that everybody is going through something, everybody’s got something on their plate that you don’t know about. People have bad days, they don’t seem totally there, or off, or mean even, or rude.

[We should] give them a chance, especially in the last year and a half. You don’t know what they’ve gone through and what their experience has been, and what they’re dealing with internally.

N&O: It’s been 10 years and you’ve grown as an artist. On this album, you co-wrote 10 songs. How have you evolved or matured as an artist, and what kind of artist are you now?

McCreery: Originally I got started and didn’t really know how to make a record, what I wanted to say. You start at 17, you’ve lived, you’ve gotten to high school, but you really haven’t had a ton of life experiences. Over the years, the biggest thing for me is I’ve lived life, I’ve gone through the highest of highs, the lowest of lows. I’ve been married, I’ve lost loved ones, I’ve just had a lot of experiences to write about.

As far as my songwriting goes, I think I’m not shy to write from personal experience and from my own life, whereas before I might have been a little tentative to write about it. Now it’s like I embrace it. I love talking about my wife and my life. And now that I’ve found out that a lot of people can relate to what we’re going through, because again, back to the main point, we’re all a lot more alike than we are different.

I think it’s great to write about your own life. I think I’ve grown up, which we all do, and my songwriting is not afraid to talk about it.

N&O: Is songwriting that’s based on genuine life experiences what connects with listeners the most?

McCreery: Yeah, absolutely. The fans out there, they’re smart. They can tell if it’s authentic, if you really believe it. It took me seven years to get a No. 1 single on the country radio. And that was my most personal song I’ve put out there yet, “Five More Minutes,” and then my next one was our wedding song, “This Is It.”

N&O: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about yourself, and about the music industry?

McCreery: The biggest thing I’ve learned about myself is that I know how to persevere and I will persevere when things get tough. Like I said, the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. And there was a time there in 2016 when I wasn’t sure if we’d ever get to put music out again, and me and my team, we pulled ourselves up by the bootstraps and figured it out, and we persevered and worked hard.

And I can segue that into the next part of the question too, just saying that’s what it takes in this industry. You can go up and down Broadway in Nashville and hear some of the world’s best country music. There’s so many talented people here, and if you’re not willing to work hard, there’s a thousand other people that will, and they’ll crush it.

For me, you’ve gotta wake up everyday, be intentional and work hard and have a goal in mind. So for me, that’s writing songs, and putting a show together on the road that’s going to make the crowd enjoy themselves and have a big time. It’s never ending, there’s always something to work on.

How to see Scotty McCreery

Here are details about upcoming local appearances.

On Friday at 5 p.m., McCreery will attend the “Greatness of Garner” football game at South Garner High School and perform at few songs at 6 p.m. South Garner is playing his alma mater, Garner Magnet High School. He will meet fans and sign CDs, which will be available for $5.

McCreery is planning to stop by Schoolkids Records, at 2237 Avent Ferry Road in Raleigh on Sept. 22, at 5:30 p.m. He won’t be performing during that visit, but he’ll be signing CDs, which will be available for purchase.