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The Sound

Life after ‘Idol’

11/12/2014

Scotty McCreery plays at Seven Flags Event Center on Friday, Nov. 11.

Scotty McCreery plays at Seven Flags Event Center on Friday, Nov. 11.

The honest truth is that, despite what the show would like you to believe, winning “American Idol” has never been a surefire path to success. Season 1 winner Kelly Clarkson has certainly done OK for herself, and she and Carrie Underwood probably stand shoulder-to-shoulder as the show’s biggest successes. But outside of the Big Two, there’s a long list of middling and checkered success. By the time Scotty McCreery won, winners were being dropped from their original recording contracts about 60 percent of the time.

So when the fresh-faced 17-year-old with the big voice fought his way to the top of Season 10, he knew that was just the beginning. If he was going to stick around, he was going to have to do so with genuinely good music.

McCreery’s first album, “Clear as Day,” sold well — it’s been certified platinum — but critics panned it, and none of the singles reached higher than No.15 on the country music charts.

“The first album, the company wanted to strike while the iron was hot, so I had two months to make a whole country record,” McCreery explained in a phone interview.

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Labels want to be quick to capitalize on the American Idol hype-wave, since American audiences can be quick to forget. Through the process, McCreery was surrounded by a wealth of experience, as Nashville has no shortage of talented songwriters and producers. But at the end of the day, McCreery knows it is his face on the cover. So while he takes great care to listen to advice, he is quick to shoulder the responsibility for the sound of his albums.

“I’ve always wanted to make the final word on what my career is going to sound like,” he said. “I listen to my producers and am happy to have the advice, but ultimately (with the first album) we only had so much time to listen to and record songs.

“The second record, we had a year-and-a-half to write the album,” he continued. “We had a lot of time to think about what we really wanted the album to sound like.”

The now-21-year-old continued to work on his game, and his 2013 follow up, “See You Tonight,” was one of the best-reviewed country albums of the year, and the title track became McCreery’s first top 10 single.

“The goal is to grow with every album,” McCreery said. “The biggest difference, to me, was really just the time we had.”

For McCreery, that difference can best be seen not in critical response or total album sales, but in the success of the singles.

“You can have album sales, but that will only do so much for you,” he said. “But when the radio starts playing your songs regularly, that’s a direct result of people liking your stuff.”

The strong sophomore effort has enabled McCreery to settle in a little, too. He recently bought his first house, and he continues to attend classes at North Carolina State University. After winning “Idol” while still in high school, going to college was important to him and a way of maintaining as normal a life as possible.

“After ‘Idol,’ I started telling producers that my goal was to finish high school and go to college,” he said. “They all told me it was impossible, but my hometown is pretty special. I knew that if I came back, told them that I just wanted to go to school, they would let me. I remember waking up for that first day (back) and saying, ‘What’s the most normal thing I can wear today?’ ” CV

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