GARNER — Scotty McCreery has scored a top-ranked, platinum-selling album. He’s had a successful holiday-theme CD. He’s won country music awards.
But when his third CD in as many Octobers is released Tuesday, McCreery is pushing for something more: the kind of chart-topping, radio-powered single that has thus far eluded him.
“I’m really hoping this album takes us to that next level,” McCreery said Thursday in an interview in his hometown, Garner. “I’m keying in on radio for this record – trying to get some singles out there that climb up the charts and go. And I think we’ve got the songs to do it.”
Of the 13 tracks on the CD, called “See You Tonight,” there’s a strong influence of the uptempo, good-time, good-ole-boy style of country now popularized by acts such as Luke Bryan or Florida Georgia Line. McCreery refers to it as “bro-country.”
A sophomore at N.C. State University who just turned 20 on Wednesday, McCreery said he often uses the three fellow students he lives with – all longtime friends – as a target demographic for new material. They particularly like the song “Feelin’ It,” whose lyrics talk of “pop-tops,” “flip-flops” and “drop-tops.”
“I Don’t Wanna Be Your Friend,” one of five songs on the CD that McCreery co-wrote, is about a guy telling a girl that he has enough friends, he wants romance.
“It’s a fun song. It’s not supposed to come off cold,” McCreery said. “It’s just saying I want a little more – I want a relationship.”
But he turns coy when asked about his own relationship status.
“I like to leave this question a mystery,” he said, smiling. “I always say that it’s tough to have a relationship when you’re on the road as much as I am … but it is possible.”
Just don’t expect McCreery to pull a Miley Cyrus and pop up in the tabloids or on TMZ anytime soon.
“That won’t happen,” he said. “Miley, she’s great. She’s changing up a little bit. Different strokes for different folks. Our strokes are a little different. But hey, she’s doing her thing, and I’m not going to criticize her for it.”
As someone who has been in the spotlight since he was 17, McCreery said he always has to be careful about what he’s doing and where he’s seen.
“I can never turn things off and just kind of be,” he said. “And that’s tough as a teenager and as a young adult. You want to just kind of let loose sometimes.”
Beyond the “bro-country” on the album, McCreery said he wanted to make sure there were some traditional country offerings, too. “Something More,” one of his compositions, talks about searching for substance amid the party songs.
And he is especially fond of “Carolina Moon,” a wistful ballad in which he duets with Alison Krauss. (Alas, they did their tracks separately, he said, and he missed recording with her by a day.)
Frank Rogers, who has worked with country acts such as Brad Paisley and Darius Rucker, produced the new album and wrote some songs with McCreery.
“See You Tonight,” the first single from the CD, has risen to No. 36 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. McCreery said it’s his baby – the first song he was involved in writing to ever be recorded.
His first album, “Clear As Day,” came out in October 2011, just a few months after McCreery won the 10th season of Fox’s “American Idol” TV singing competition. Though McCreery said that he’s proud of “Clear As Day,” which sold more than a million copies, he admits that it was rushed into stores.
“It wasn’t like we sat there and took our time with it,” he said. “Looking back, we probably should have taken more time.”
Though it spawned two gold singles (more than 500,000 copies shipped) with “I Love You This Big” and “The Trouble With Girls,” neither song cracked the Top 10.
Last October, McCreery released a holiday CD, “Christmas with Scotty McCreery,” that went gold. But Christmas songs don’t usually make hit singles.
The reality show stigma
McCreery said he thinks some radio programmers attached a bit of stigma to him initially because he found fame through reality TV. Plus, he was touring with other “Idol” finalists right after the show and didn’t do the kind of radio promotions that other young country artists usually do. He’s hoping to make up for that in promoting “See You Tonight.”
“We’re trying to hit those markets now. Trying to go meet those stations … and to play the new music and to create those relationships.”
Expect to see him stumping for the new album on “Today,” “The Tonight Show” and other places in the next few weeks. He’ll also play two shows at the N.C. State Fair, as he did last year.
On top of that, of course, there are his studies at NCSU. He’s taking a full class load this semester, but McCreery acknowledged that he might have to taper that off a bit in the future.
“I’m learning that I’m not Superman and that I can’t necessarily do everything,” he said.
Ogburn: 919-829-8987; Twitter: @thadogburn