GARNER -- He's the "American Idol" winner. The hottest new face in country music. The teen who'll be making his Grand Ole Opry debut Friday.
But Scotty McCreery also is still a 17-year-old Garner High School student. And as such, he had to take an end-of-course test Monday before heading off today for a busy week in Nashville.
It was the second time that schoolwork interfered with McCreery's newfound celebrity. On May 26, the day after he was crowned "Idol" winner on the Fox TV show's live finale, McCreery had to make a quick visit back to Garner for a required AP English exam. That kept him from a usual "Idol" rite of passage: a trip to "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" the day after victory. (That visit has been rescheduled for June 15.)
"You're up on top of the world, and then it's right back down to earth," McCreery joked Sunday during an interview at his Garner home.
McCreery made a quiet trip back to town over the weekend to rest a bit between last week's New York talk show appearances and this week's activities at CMA Music Fest in Nashville. In addition to the Grand Ole Opry, McCreery will be a presenter at the CMT Music Awards Wednesday night. (He's scheduled to introduce hot country act Lady Antebellum, though that could change.)
McCreery tried to keep a low profile after arriving in Garner on Friday afternoon. "Here, I just want to be Scotty and just be normal," he said. But that's easier said than done when you're the "American Idol."
As he and his parents, Mike and Judy McCreery, came into town from the airport, McCreery wanted some of his beloved Bojangles' chicken and iced tea. The family didn't go into the restaurant, though, Judy McCreery said, for fear of generating too much attention. They went through the drive-through and ate in the parking lot - right across from a billboard with McCreery's giant likeness celebrating his win.
On Saturday, McCreery played golf with his buddies. By the 18th hole, McCreery said, a gallery of about 30 or 40 people
were watching. It was a lot of pressure, he said - much like facing the judges on the "Idol" main stage.
He had Garner with him
Even if he can't discreetly move about Garner like he used to, McCreery said he's thankful for the tremendous support his hometown gave him during his "Idol" run.
"I've grown up around all these people," he said. "We were in this journey together. I took Garner out with me to Hollywood."
McCreery was in Los Angeles from February through the "Idol" finale. Between learning new songs and performing each week, recording songs for iTunes and taking part in numerous Fox promotional events, it was exhausting, he said. There was just one day off - Easter Sunday.
Plus, McCreery and his fellow contestants who were still school age had to have three hours of tutoring each day. As three other teen contestants were eliminated, it left just McCreery and Lauren Alaina Suddeth, the 16-year-old "Idol" runner-up, in class together for the final weeks of the show. Rather than being a hindrance, McCreery said the schoolwork actually provided a nice escape from the pressures of the competition.
"It was a blessing in disguise," he said.
Thanks to all the tutoring, McCreery, who was in his junior year at Garner High when he went to Hollywood, now has nearly enough credits to graduate from high school. He lacks only a senior English course.
Faith was crucial
Judy McCreery was with her son during his time in Hollywood. His father and his sister, Ashley, also made trips, along with grandparents, school friends and other guests.
McCreery also touched base with his youth group from First Baptist Church of Garner through Skype computer video conferencing. The group met on the night of a couple of "Idol" shows, and McCreery got to see and hear them before he went on stage.
McCreery said his faith was key for him, particularly during lonely times when he thought about what he was missing back in Garner.
"That strengthened my relationship with Christ," he said. "He was the only one I had to lean on besides my mom."
The McCreerys hope McCreery's faith and upbringing will help him make good decisions as he tackles stardom. Judy said to him that The News & Observer front page celebrating his victory also had a cautionary tale about the poor decisions that can come with celebrity: a story about the federal investigation of former U.S. Senator John Edwards.
The country music community has been welcoming to both McCreery and Lauren, he said. He signed an album deal with Mercury Nashville/19 Recordings/ Interscope, and he hopes to have his first album in stores by the day after Thanksgiving to entice Christmas shoppers.
As his first single, "I Love You This Big," does well on the charts, McCreery is listening to potential songs for the album. He expects to do some recording while on this summer's "Idol" tour, which will start July 6 and continue through September.
McCreery can't wait until July 27, when the tour comes to the RBC Center in Raleigh.
"It's going to be cool for me because I've gone there so many times for concerts and N.C. State games," said the Wolfpack fan. "I just want to go out there and say thanks to everyone here."
Click here for lots of pictures from this interview taken at Scotty's home :)