Super Scotty

When Scotty McCreery was just 17, his life changed from ordinary to extraordinary. Scotty auditioned for American Idol, and even though he never dreamed that he could possibly make it through, he won the entire show! McCreery, who won the 10th season of American Idol in 2011, holds the record for the youngest male ever to win. His single “See You Tonight” reached the top 10 on Billboard’s country charts, and McCreery now performs in cities across the United States. In an interview, he told me about growing up in North Carolina, where he was born in 1993. Here are excerpts from our conversation.

Q: What do you think when you look back on your years in elementary and middle school?
A: Looking back, I had a blast. I loved it. I made lifelong friends that I still hang out with today, and learned a lot. I had a lot of great teachers that I still run into in the grocery stores in town and catch up some. [My childhood experiences] definitely gave me a good foundation for moving on in school and life.

Q: Were you ever bullied in middle school?
A: My first or second day of middle school, I was walking to lunch by myself, and somebody put me up against a locker and said, “Give me your lunch money.” I said, “Well, buddy, I have a lunch account, so I don’t have any money on me.” So I couldn’t be any help to him. Besides that, it was never really too bad. But I knew it was out there, and it’s not a good thing when you have to go through something like that. I know I was scared when I went through it.

Q: Did you ever get in trouble in school?
A: Yes, I got in trouble in school. I think everybody does, eventually. I think one time somebody took my Choco Taco in middle school, and if there’s one thing you don’t do with me in middle school, it’s take my Choco Taco. So I went and confronted the kid, and when I tried to get it back, a tiny little argument ensued. I got an in-school suspension for that, just one day, but yes, that was the biggest one I remember. Other than that, just [minor things]. But yes, I got in trouble. I’m not perfect.

Q: What was your favorite book in school?
A: I read a book about Muhammad Ali, and that was one I did a big project on. It told his whole life story. He went from a tough upbringing to being a legend and really big in the history of this country. During Idol, I got to meet Ali. It was a celebrity fight night thing that they took us to, and it was pretty cool to have read about him in middle school. Then to get to meet him was pretty awesome.

Q: Were you more nervous performing in school, or how did that compare to trying out for American Idol and doing the show?
A: I tell you what, I mean nerves are nerves. I learned that early on. I did a few performances in choir growing up, but my first solo, one of the first big ones I did was in my eighth-grade graduation, and I was singing American Idol alum David Cook’s song. We were practicing it in the weeks before, and finally the day came. I could barely pay attention to the rest of the ceremony, I was so nervous with my part coming up. Afterwards, I was relieved and thought it went pretty well. But I was really nervous then, and those nerves definitely compared to the first night on Idol. When you’re about to go on live TV, the butterflies are flying, but nerves are nerves, whether you’re on TV or whether you’re singing in front of friends. Sometimes, it's more [difficult] singing in front of friends because you have to see them the next day.

Q: Were there ever times when you didn’t make a team, get a part in a play, or land a solo, and what did you learn from that?
A: Yes, my seventh-grade year. I had two loves growing up, music and baseball. My parents say that I hummed at my one-year-old check-up, so I don’t remember not singing. I started playing baseball when I was five years old, and I loved it and got to play on a lot of travel teams and stuff. My seventh-grade year, I didn’t make the team, and I remember being pretty devastated about that. But really it just made me want to work harder. So I came back for my eighth-grade try-out, and I’d spent the entire year practicing and went on another travel ball team, and tried to hone my skills and get better and better. My eighth-grade year, I got on the team and ended up being the number one pitcher on the team. So from failure, I learned I just had to work harder and see what we could do the next year and ended up with a little success. So good came out of bad.

Q: What have you learned in college?
A: You’ve got to study, study, study. But more than just math problems and history lessons, [college] teaches you about life—life lessons about working hard, being organized and managing your time well. You hear about the fun in college, going to football games and basketball games, and all that, but you can only do that if you manage your time well and study. We had a bonfire the other night, and one of my friends said, "I’ve got to go study, which I should have done a couple of days ago." You can do what you want to do if you do what you have to do first, and that’s something you learn in college.

Q: What lessons can you share with kids about the importance of education?
A: Education is really important. I had grandparents who never got the chance to go to college. When I was a young kid, they always preached, “If you have the chance and the opportunity, go!” So even after I had some pretty big success at 17 years old, and college was still two years out, I made up my mind I was going to go back to school and finish high school. Everybody on Idol, I told them, “I’m going to go back home and finish up high school.” They said, “Oh, you can’t do that. You’re a celebrity now. It’s impossible.” I said, “I’m going to give it a try.” I graduated from high school, walked with my class, and then I went to college. I got accepted to North Carolina State and took courses there, so education is really important. Like I said, even learning about the math problems and all that, that’s great. But it’s even more so, the life lessons you learn.

Q: When you tried out for American Idol, did you think you could win?
A: No, no. Winning was not even on my radar when I auditioned for it. I remember walking around the very first day in Milwaukee, and there were a bunch of folks out in the lobbies with their guitars and a woman practicing. I looked at my dad and said, "Dad what are we doing here? I’m in over my head."

I didn't think anything would come of it. I honestly just auditioned to have a cool story to tell my friends back home. There was never a bone in my body that thought, "All right, you can win this thing." Until about top five. And top five of the show was when I remember walking around the living room in our apartment in LA and saying, “Mom, you know what? I think I really want to win this thing now.” That’s when I tried to kick it in another gear and sang, “Gone Like a Freight Train,” and to many, that was my biggest week on the show. From then on, I really tried to hone in, and see if I could win it.

Q: What life lessons have you learned from the whole American Idol experience?
A: Perseverance is one. Keep on working because, as I said, there were plenty of times that I thought I was headed home. I just decided that we’re going to keep on working until they say otherwise. So, perseverance. There are plenty of other ones. Just believing in yourself. [That's] a big one. In this industry, the music industry, it’s tough out there, and there’s a lot of competition. You see some guy’s doing really well, and you say to yourself, "Can I ever be where they’re at?" You’ve just got to believe in yourself, and you never know until you try. So I tried, and I'm still trying to keep on building.

Photo courtesy of the author