Garner loves Scotty McCreery this big

On the day after Scotty McCreery's big "American Idol" win, his hometown couldn't stop talking Thursday about the 17-year-old who traded his small-town existence for the lights of Hollywood.

Customers flocked to get a glimpse of the Scotty displays at Garner's Lowes Foods, where the teen worked as a cashier until February.

Businesses put up signs to congratulate the country crooner. And Garner officials even made plans to create a map of Scotty points of interest around town.

"Everybody's on cloud nine - just kind of euphoria," Drew Cook, principal at Garner High School, said.

The town is ready for its new star to come home, but it's not clear when that will be. Scotty is already making the rounds on the national talk-show circuit - he's slated to appear on "Live With Regis & Kelly" on Tuesday, and he'll appear on the "Today" show Thursday for a summer concert with Lauren Alaina Suddeth, the 16-year-old from Georgia he defeated on Wednesday's "Idol" finale.

Then, Scotty will likely begin rehearsals for this summer's "American Idols Live!" tour, which runs from July through September.

Whenever he makes it back to North Carolina, some Garner residents want to throw him another party. The town hosted a homecoming parade and Scotty concert that drew up to 30,000 fans May 14.

"Nothing would thrill our residents more than to do something to welcome everyone's favorite son home," said Hardin Watkins, Garner's town manager. "We will certainly put something together for him. Scotty deserves it."

Fans across the nation also were supporting Scotty on Thursday. His first single, "I Love You This Big," was the No. 1 single on iTunes, and a compilation of the songs he has performed on "Idol" was at the No. 2 spot on iTunes' album chart, behind Lady Gaga's "Born This Way."

Lauren's song, "Like My Mother Does," was the No. 3 single, while her compilation album was in the sixth spot.

Are they a couple?

Also Thursday, rumors swirled on online blogs about the exact relationship between Scotty and Lauren. She planted a kiss on Scotty when he was named the winner, and he told her, "I love you, baby" while he performed his final song. (Scotty also hugged and kissed others on stage, including "Idol" judge Randy Jackson.)

But the teens aren't an item, said Will Norris, 18, Scotty's friend who is a senior at Garner High School.

"I am for sure they're not dating," Will said, adding that he talked briefly with Scotty on the phone Wednesday night and that Scotty made it clear that he and Lauren are like "brother and sister."

The "American Idol" title comes with a recording contract, and Scotty is unlikely to return to Garner High School for his senior year. But his rise to fame has had a big effect on the school of 2,300 students, said Cook, the principal.

"It's brought the school together," he said. "This has really rallied our kids."

Scotty wore his "Blue Crew" T-shirt often on the show, and there has been talk that the Crew, a student booster club, could sell the shirts to others outside the campus. But they decided against it, Cook said.

"We said, 'You know what? Those are for our students, and we're going to keep it that way.'"

Carlton Timberlake, a Garner High senior who sang in the school chorus with Scotty, said he can't imagine his friend coming to back to campus. He would need police escorts in class, Carlton joked.

But that doesn't mean Scotty won't go to college. He has mentioned studying at Belmont University in Nashville, whose country music alumni include Brad Paisley, Trisha Yearwood, Lee Ann Womack and Josh Turner.

Cook said he hopes Scotty will get a degree.

"I think his family will help him find the right balance," he said.

Crazy at Lowes

After Wednesday night's win, fans poured into the Lowes Foods, said store manager Terry Mascaro. They snapped pictures of the Scotty displays, and the store let customers take home Scotty posters and other items.

"It felt like my favorite team won the Super Bowl," Mascaro said. "After they announced Scotty won, everybody went berserk."

Garner officials are creating a map that will show visitors to town how to get to the grocery store, the high school, Scotty's church, Lake Benson Park and Garner Historic Auditorium.

"Scotty is a celebrity now," Mayor Ronnie Williams said. "We're just going to keep basking in the glory of Scotty's win."

Staff writers Brooke Cain and Thad Ogburn contributed to this report.

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