The Scotty party isn't over yet.
More than 1,700 people packed into the Garner High School gym let out a minute-long roar Thursday night when it was announced that native son Scotty McCreery had advanced to the finals of "American Idol." Scotty will compete live next Tuesday against Lauren Alaina of Rossville, Ga., with the winner of the top-rated TV singing competition to be announced Wednesday.
"Scotty Mania" has swept through Garner in recent weeks, reaching a crescendo last Saturday, when Scotty had a homecoming trip and performed a concert at Lake Benson park for a crowd estimated at 25,000 to 30,000 people. Now, Scotty is in the home stretch of his "Idol" journey, and the town's residents intend to cheer him on to a huge victory.
"I think everyone loves him!" said Kelsey Bryan, a freshman at Garner High. "He's just down to the roots."
The third finalist - Haley Reinhart of Wheeling, Ill. - was eliminated on Thursday's show.
Though North Carolina has been well-represented on "American Idol" in the Fox show's 10 seasons, Scotty is the first Tar Heel resident to make the finals since 2004, when Fantasia Barrino of High Point won the competition. Raleigh's Clay Aiken also made the Final Two in 2003, but he lost the title to Ruben Studdard of Birmingham, Ala.
Scotty has been an "Idol" favorite since trying out for the show in auditions held last summer in Milwaukee, Wis. Producers obviously saw something special in the Garner High junior with the deep voice - they sent a camera crew to film background footage in Garner even before this season began airing in January.
After the auditions, Scotty advanced through early rounds in Hollywood, Calif., and Las Vegas. He made the Final 24, then the Final 12, receiving millions of viewer votes after his live performances each week. "Idol" host Ryan Seacrest said Thursday that a record 95 million people cast votes after this week's Wednesday performance show between Scotty, Lauren and Haley.
He brings the twang
Throughout the competition, Scotty has stuck with the music he likes best - country. Even when faced with theme weeks such as Motown, Elton John or Carole King songs, Scotty, 17, put his special twang into his performances. Along the way, he also became a heartthrob to legions of preteen and teenage girls. Others appreciate the wholesome, Christian image he has projected during interviews.
"He's a great role model for the kids in a world where there are not many role models," said Melissa Hinton of Garner, who was at the high school viewing party Thursday night with daughter Carmen, 8, and son Bryan, 2. All had on T-shirts with Scotty's image on them.
Paulette Disbrow of PKD Screen Printing has been selling the Scotty shirts for months, with profits going to Scotty's favorite charities. At Saturday's celebration at the park, she sold out of 1,840 shirts before Scotty even took the stage.
Town gets to shine
Footage of Scotty's homecoming visit was a big part of Thursday's "Idol" show. Cheers erupted every time Scotty or his parents -Judy and Mike McCreery of Garner - appeared on the screen. The crowd, including the "Blue Crew" student section from the school - also particularly liked images of their campus and of the surprise appearance of country singer Josh Turner during Scotty's Saturday concert.
Next week, two viewing parties are being planned. The school gym will host a celebration from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday. The performance show will air at 8 p.m.
Then on Wednesday, the party is expected to move to the RBC Center in Raleigh for "Idol's" two-hour finale. Town leaders had hoped to keep the event in Garner, where other viewing parties have been held all season. But "Idol" producers pushed for the bigger venue where they could be assured of doing live remote shots for the TV show.
"At one point we were ... steadfast - it's going to be in Garner," Mayor Ronnie Williams said. "Garner is Scotty, and Scotty is Garner. It just makes sense to me to have the finale in Garner."
Sonya Shaw, the town's parks and recreation director, said the town expects to have a better idea of next week's plans this afternoon.
Of course, everyone is already predicting a Scotty win. But even should the unthinkable happen, Garner residents say Scotty has made them proud.
"He'll always be a winner!" said Kelsey, the Garner High freshman.
"And we'll always love him!" added her friend and fellow freshman Hannah Hamlin.
Staff writers Sarah Nagem and Brooke Cain contributed to this report.