Scotty McCreery is only 24 but he’s experienced more than his share of life’s ups and downs.
The winner of the 10th season of “American Idol” in 2011 at the tender age of 17, he made history by becoming the youngest male artist in any genre — and the first country music artist — to have his debut album hit number one on the Billboard Top 200 charts. In 13 weeks, that album, “Clear as Day,” was certified platinum with one million units sold and it became the best-selling solo album in country music in 2011.
His success continued when he won the New Artist of the Year award at both the Academy of Country Music Awards and the American Country Awards, and napped the CMT award for Breakthrough Video of the Year for “The Trouble With Girls.” In 2012, his Christmas album was certified gold and in 2013, his “See You Tonight” album debuted at number one on the Billboard Country Albums chart with the singles “See You Tonight” and “Feelin’ It” both hitting the Top 10 and reaching platinum and gold status, respectively.
But by 2015, all of this success came to a screeching halt when he was dropped by his record label, UMG Nashville, just as he was putting the finishing touches on the material for a new album. A long legal battle then ensued over the rights to that music including the song “Five More Minutes,” a personal tribute that he wrote following the death of his grandfather in 2015.
McCreery eventually prevailed and regained the rights to that song and others, but was without a record deal. So he and his management team made a bold decision: release “Five More Minutes” independently.
A gusty move, but it paid off.
On the first day of its release, the song hit number two on the iTunes country singles chart and number nine on the iTunes all-genre singles chart. It was also the first country single ever to reach the Top 50 on the Country Aircheck/Mediabase chart without being released on a record label.
“I wrote it for my Granddaddy Bill — we lost him a couple of weeks before — so he was the inspiration,” McCreery said, “but it became more about life in general. We all have those moments and people that we wish we’d spent a little more time with. I felt it was a pretty universal song.”
It also caught the attention of Triple Tigers Records/Sony Music Entertainment, which stepped up to sign the singer to a contract. And three weeks ago, “Five More Minutes” hit number one on the country charts.
“It’s been an interesting few years, up, down and all around,” McCreery said. “We were on the biggest label in Nashville and there were differences of opinions on song choices, so I’ve moved on from them. It took a while to get the pieces back together but after 2016, we had a chance to get the music back and put out ‘Five More Minutes’ and the song was worth it. Triple Tigers was fired up about it and they came on board, and we’ve been kicking butt ever since.”
McCreery admits that releasing a song independently was “kind of crazy, it’s not a normal way of doing business, but we had seen the response that the song was getting in our live shows, we were getting a standing ovation almost every night for it, so if you have to bet on a song, you have to bet on ‘Five More Minutes.’ Luckily, it proved us right.”
And he’s hoping that lightning strikes twice with Friday’s release of his next album, “Seasons Change,” which features “Five More Minutes.”
“We had a record ready to go but only two of the songs on this album, ‘Five More Minutes’ and ‘In Between,’ were ready to go,” he said. “But this record is a heck of a lot better so it’s probably a good thing that we had the chance to regroup and record this one instead.”
This project, on which he cowrote all 11 songs, also provides a peek inside the singer’s soul with cuts that reference his upbringing in North Carolina and his Christian faith. On “In Between,” for example, McCreery sings about how he stands somewhere between holy water and Jim Beam.
“I’m excited about putting out personal ideas to the public,” he said. “And I think there are a lot of us guys who are very faith driven but also like to have fun.”
His second single, “This Is It,” is perhaps the most personal of all. It’s a song he wrote for Gabi Dugal, when he asked for her hand in marriage on the top of a mountain in their home state last fall.
And although he draws the line on revealing publicly when the wedding will be — “There is a date but we’re keeping it on the down-low so there are no party crashers,” he said — he’s not shy about singing Dugal’s praises.
“She’s incredible. I’ve known her my whole life, we met in kindergarten and just grew up together,” he said. “She’s a rock for me, my biggest cheerleader, she keeps me humble for sure.”
Despite McCreery’s fame, he remains grounded, something he attributes to his country roots.
“My best buds now were my best buds 10 years ago,” he said. “You’ve got to keep family and friends close and remember that back home, I’m mowing the grass and that’s more real life than any of this. I just have to make sure I don’t lose sight of that. I love writing songs and going on TV, but it’s only a part of my life.”
He’ll be back on TV this year, returning to the rebooted “American Idol” as a mentor. “We flew up there two weeks ago to mentor and I had the chance to talk with a contestant and share some tidbits that I picked up on when I was on the show,” he said.
“I’m just a fan of the show, I watched it from season one on and was lucky enough to be part of it so will be watching every week when I can.”
But some Idol winners — Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Jordin Sparks — have had more success than others.
“I don’t know what the magic formula is, but some winners have more of a mainstream sound than others,” he said. “There are some you might hear on country radio or top 40 but then someone like Ruben [Studdard] is more of a smooth gospel R&B guy, but he’s done Broadway and he’s killing it.
“My plan was always to go to Nashville and try to make it, but Idol definitely gave me a jumpstart. It was a huge platform and who knows if we’d be here without them.”
Beyond the album launch and the upcoming nuptials, McCreery will be busy touring and playing the U.S. this year including a gig at the Gramercy Theatre in New York on Monday night.
“We’ll be out there all year,” he said. “We’ll be doing a lot of fairs and festivals and we’ve got some theater shows booked.”
And he’ll be spreading the news via social media where he has more than one million followers on Twitter and 434 million on Instagram.
He knows that sharing his life with his fans goes with the territory in today’s world. “It used to be the only time they’d see you was when you went to their city to sing,” he said. “And now somebody in the Philippines can know what you’re up to, it’s pretty wild.”
They can also see what he’s wearing, whether it’s the T-shirt and basketball shorts he donned on his hike with Dugal when he popped the question or the floral embellishments on a blazer he wore to the 2015 Grammy Awards.
“My style is pretty low-key,” he said. “These are my old faithful boots, I wear them pretty much everywhere: they’re Lucchese and they fit like a glove. I pretty much exclusively wear Seven For All Mankind jeans and normally I’m just a button-down shirt guy.”
But for his red-carpet appearances, he steps out a bit more.
“I still pretty much follow a classic look but if it’s something like the ACMs [Academy of Country Music awards] in Vegas, I’ll get a little more flashy and try different things. I don’t mind trying things on the red carpet. You’ve got to have fun.”