Scotty McCreery’s 2018 was pretty spectacular, both personally and professionally.
He married his longtime girlfriend, Gabi Dugal, in June. Wedding footage was used in the video for his hit song, “This is It,” which has helped the video rack up 28 million views as of this week.
And after a bit of uncertainty in 2017, when the Season 10 “American Idol” winner found himself without a label, his album “Seasons Change” topped Billboard’s Country Album chart and reached No. 2 on the Top Album chart. He made history by self-releasing the single, “Five More Minutes,” becoming the first artist to hit the top of the country singles charts without the backing of a record label.
He enters 2019 with a tour that brings him back home to North Carolina. His Raleigh stop on Jan. 19 of the Seasons Change Tour is sold out at The Ritz. He also will be in Charlotte Jan. 18.
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“This last year, it didn’t just come because of what happened during that year, but from all of the work that we’ve been putting in for the last seven years,” McCreery said in a phone interview with The News & Observer.
Indeed, while the Garner native was a hometown hero since winning “Idol” in 2011, his stature in Nashville was on shaky ground. He certainly was successful. His first three albums all sold phenomenally — each debuting within the top two spots of the Billboard Country Album chart — hinting at a long relationship with Mercury Nashville, the only label he had ever known.
But then came 2017. Despite great album sales, the success failed to translate to the singles charts. Only 2013’s “See You Tonight” and 2014’s “Feelin’ It” managed to crack the Top 10 of any country chart. The 2015 single “Southern Belle” failed to crack the Top 40. McCreery soon found himself without a label’s backing for the first time since winning “Idol.”
That’s when his hustle really began. He took the music that was slated to go onto his next Mercury release and began releasing the music himself. Last year was an entirely different game.
He enters the new year with the momentum of a new single, “This Is It,” poised to hit No. 1. Before he heads back to North Carolina, The News & Observer spoke to the 25-year-old during a break in the tour to discuss the pressure of hometown shows, endless requests for free tickets and opener Jimmie Allen.
Q: With so many hometown shows under your belt at this point, do they even register as any different from a regular stop on a tour?
A: Oh, I still get nervous for the hometown shows, definitely more than any other shows anywhere else in the country. You know who is out there: family and friends, people you’re going to see at the grocery store, and anywhere else you go.
Q: How long is the list of requests for free tickets when you play in Raleigh?
A: It’s unbelievable. Everyday I get another text from someone asking for tickets, and I have to tell them, “We’re out of comp tickets.” We ran out months ago, and we had already doubled up from the usual number we give out the rest of the show, and it still wasn’t enough. Hopefully the folks who want to come out can make it, and if not, we’ll just see them the next time we come through.
Q: Your 2018 was phenomenal, and a complete turnaround from where you had been the two years previous. Coming into 2019, what do you want to see happen in order to keep the momentum going?
A: Our job is to keep the fire going. The momentum is there, and everyone on the team — me, the band, and the crew — are just out there having fun right now. It’s technically work for us, going out there to make a living, but it’s fun to work right now. I just want to keep piling it on right now.
We have a single out right now, “This Is It,” that’s sitting at No. 7 [on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart]. We’ve been trying to get that thing to No. 1, just like “Five More Minutes,” but it’s no easy task. We’re working hard, and just want to continue what we’re doing, and see where we can take this thing.
Q: You are now on the Thirty Tigers Records roster, where you find yourself as the face of the label. Where are you on a confidence level?
A: Definitely more than I had a year ago, for sure. That just comes with seeing success.
It’s been a slow ride to get where we are now, and I know that sounds weird, coming off a show as big as “American Idol” was in 2011. It has been a slow rise, but I thank every day that we’re out there playing, and the confidence level grows a little bit more.
Q: As a former winner of “American Idol,” and one of the few to gain immediate mainstream success coming out of that win, do you see the winners who seem to fail to hold onto the spotlight making mistakes that drive you nuts?
A: There’s really not. I don’t think there’s a magic formula coming off of one of those shows to hold onto success. I think you just go out there and do what you do. Everyone out there is working hard; it’s not like there’s just one working hard, and the other ones decided to just pack it up and go home. Everyone is trying their best, but it’s just a crazy world. The music business is just a crazy business, and an unforgiving world, and I’m lucky the last few years to have been able to stick around and enjoy it.
Q: You have Jimmie Allen out on the road for this tour, and he has recently been celebrating his first number one song, “Best Shot.” I realize Jimmie is a little older than you [32 years old versus 25], but have you had any moments of mentoring him on how to handle the success?
A: Jimmie’s a good guy, a good friend, and it’s been cool to see him have this success. I’ve known him for about seven years now in Nashville, and he’s always been the guy who just keeps grinding and grinding, doing it the right way. He’s made those relationships, built on them, and I’m glad that it’s all paying off for him now. I don’t need to give him much advice; he’s doing just fine.
I try to get side stage and watch him perform. He’s a crowd-pleaser for sure, and the crowd in Raleigh is going to love him, because he’s going to get them into the show. He’s just fun to watch.
Who: Scotty McCreery with Jimmie Allen and Heather Morgan
When: 8 p.m. Jan. 19
Where: The Ritz, 2820 Industrial Drive, Raleigh
Cost: Sold out
Info: RitzRaleigh.com or 919-424-1400