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"American Idol" winner Scotty McCreery's performs during his 18th birthday celebration before a hometown crowd at Raleigh's Time Warner Cable Music Pavilion at Walnut Creek.
RALEIGH -- A thick, winding line waited outside the gates of the Time Warner Cable Music Pavilion by 9 a.m. Saturday. Behind the closed gates, dozens of venue staffers, record label employees and musicians prepared for the rush to the mid-morning concert.
At the center of it all, orbited by 15,000 people on the eve of his 18th birthday, was Scotty McCreery.
The event marked a coming of age for McCreery just days after the release of his first record and a month past the end of his American Idol tour. With his hometown watching, McCreery played one of the first major independent concerts of his career.
Minutes before the show, he entertained a long line of excited teens and children, some too nervous to speak and others shaking with excitement.
Garner’s mayor, Ronnie Williams, watched as McCreery worked easily down the queue.
“He falls right into place,” Williams said.
In all the day’s interviews and interactions, McCreery’s responses were pitch perfect, somehow both casual and practiced. Just nine months after his American Idol debut, his celebrity seemed natural.
“He’s learned fast,” said his grandmother, Paquita McCreery. “We can’t keep track of it. ... Jay Leno? Too late, DVR it.”
Danielle Carr, 11, watched with friends Abby and Caitlin from the amphitheater lawn. She had an easy explanation for McCreery’s quick rise to fame.
“He’s cute, and he’s a great singer, and he has a great personality,” said Carr, a Cary resident.
The show was a short run of on-stage interviews and a handful of songs. Radio hosts needled McCreery about the usual topics: his love life, high school, his music.
He wants a down-home girl, he said, he needs to lay off the cheeseburgers before baseball season and he’s ecstatic that he might tour with Brad Paisley next year.
Austin Fowler, a high school friend, walked the crowd in a Garner “Blue Crew” shirt. “Just a year ago we had classes together,” said Fowler, 17, looking across a sea of people. McCreery has been a stage natural since his praise band days, Fowler said.
“He wants to be the same person,” he added.
The end of the show brought a whooper of a birthday present: McCreery’s first gold record, presented for sales of the single “I Love You This Big,” which have topped 600,000.
The next day, he said, he’d enjoy a more low-key birthday at his house. He also gave a hint at the menu.
“I’m an ice cream cake guy,” he said. “I like ice cream cake -- Oreo ice cream cake.”