Scotty McCreery was just another face in the crowd when he climbed onto a roller coaster for the first time at age 11, during a visit to Carowinds south of Charlotte.
Last Saturday night, the amusement park was the site of another first for the Raleigh-based country singer: His outdoor concert there marked his first time headlining a show in his home state at a venue that big (Carowinds’ Paladium holds 13,000).
And just like he was when he climbed onto that “Top Gun” coaster, McCreery was a bit nervous.
“If I’m out in Iowa doing a show, I play for them and I won’t see them for another year or something,” says the Garner native, 20. “But anytime I play in Carolina, I’ve got all kinds of friends and family that are coming out to the shows that I’m gonna see or talk to the day after. So I better put on a good show for them, or I’ll hear about it.”
This weekend in Raleigh, the N.C. State junior headlines Packapalooza – an annual back-to-school street party that organizers say brought 45,000 fans to Hillsborough Street last year.
The 2011 “American Idol” winner spoke about his love-hate relationship with being on the road, his allegiance to North Carolina, and why he’s fine singing other people’s songs.
Q. What have you enjoyed most about touring?
A: The coolest thing about it all is you get to see fans. ... (With) Twitter, we can talk to them anytime, but seeing them face-to-face is awesome. And another thing is just seeing the country. I think I’ve been to every state now except Alaska, so I’ll have to get a show up there one day. But I’ve got a bike on the road with me now, so I’ll bike around the cities we go to – check them out, and get a little exercise too. We need it on the road, eating all that crap.
Q. What have you enjoyed least?
A: Being on the road can be tough, too. I love it in the sense that I get to see the fans, I get to see the country in ways I wouldn’t have before, but on runs where I’m gone a long time, it’s tough. I’d been gone I think 22 days in a row, then I got home yesterday to Raleigh for 17 hours, then I had to pack it up and head to West Virginia. ... Some artists get out there and they hit it hard for six months at a time and they live on a bus, but that’ll never be me. I’ve never been shy about the fact that I like where I’m from, so I’m gonna try to get home a little bit whenever I can.
Q. Would you consider moving to Nashville at some point?
A: I definitely see myself getting a place in Nashville eventually. I’m really happy staying in Carolina, so I don’t see my (permanent) home moving, but as far as getting a place in Nashville and maybe going out there and staying for a couple months when I’m making a record, I could see that. But I think my main residence will always be Carolina.
Q. Now that you’ve put out three albums (2011’s “Clear as Day,” 2012’s “Christmas with Scotty McCreery” and 2013’s “See You Tonight”), do you feel like you’ve reached the point where people don’t always think first about “Idol” when your name comes up?
A: I think that comes with time. ... Some folks get off the show and they’re just like, “I’ll never talk about it again.” That’s not me. I understand where I came from. ... I just had my biggest single yet, “See You Tonight,” on the radio, and my newest single right now is climbing on up the charts. Once you get some success behind you, that’s when I think you really establish yourself outside of the TV show, as more of a music star instead of a TV star. So I think that the process of that is happening as we speak.
Q. You co-wrote the title track on “See You Tonight.” Are you interested in doing more songwriting?
A: I just want to write the best songs I can ... but the artists live in Nashville because the songwriters live in Nashville. They’re sending songs left and right that they’re writing, and they’re pitching them to you and you hear some great songs. A lot of times, the subject and the theme have been written about a thousand times over, but it’s just a new way of saying it or a better way of saying it or the best way of saying it that you’ve heard. I could write about a heartbreak song, but then if somebody else writes it and I think it sounds better, I’m gonna go with that song.