All things in life — yes, even country music — are cyclical in nature. Just ask Scotty McCreery.
In 2011, the North Carolina singer was a newly crowned country prince. That May, he took top honors on the 10th season of “American Idol.“ By October, his debut album “Clear as Day” was released and became an immediate, platinum selling smash.
Fast forward to 2016, a year that McCreery, in no uncertain terms, said “sucked.” Tensions with Mercury/Nashville, the record label that turned “Clear as Day,” a subsequent Christmas album and 2013’s “See You Tonight” into major commercial hits, began to escalate. Then after a heavily pop-conscious single called “Southern Belle,” a song McCreery wasn’t even in favor of releasing, stalled on country charts, he was dumped. The one time American Idol was now without a record contract.
The following five years became a period of reassembly with triumphs both unexpected (the first ever country hit to chart without any record label support) and anticipated (his marriage to longtime girlfriend Gabi Dugal).
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No wonder McCreery titled his fourth and newest album, which was released in March, “Seasons Change.”
“I started this record five years ago,” said the singer, who will perform as part of Acoustic Jam 2018 at the Opera House on Dec. 4. “We had a record ready to go two-and-a-half years to three years ago, but it got shelved. That gave me more time to write and just find out who I was as a writer. Through those years, a lot happened. I wanted to tell my own story. I felt like folks needed to hear it from me.”
In 2018, at a mere 25 years of age, McCreery is a wiser and certainly more worldly artist than the 17 year old that won American Idol. While such honors carry unavoidable stigma among critics — specifically, that the show cranks out instant celebrities with little artistic grounding — McCreery is more than appreciative of the exposure it sent his way.
“Getting me on TV in front of 20 million people a night… that was massive for me as an artist. But, seven years removed, what I am now is an artist who is completely different than that. You have to get over those hurdles where people think you’re just a karaoke singer. Writing songs and having songs that work for you certainly help with that.”
A song that most decidedly didn’t work for McCreery was “Southern Belle,” a non-album tune Mercury/Nashville chose to release over a more traditional sounding single called “Five More Minutes.” The singer’s subsequent split with the label proved devastating.
“That really came out of left field. But it’s one of those things where you have to figure out what’s best for you and just keep chugging along. At the time, it seems like such a terrible thing, that the world was falling with no light at the end of the tunnel — all of that. But I think it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me as far as situating myself as an artist.”
The proverbial last laugh, though, went to McCreery. In 2017, “Five More Minutes” became a radio hit while McCreery was without a record contract. He later signed with the indie Triple Tigers for “Seasons Change.”
“At first, it didn’t matter if radio played ‘Five More Minutes’ or not. But from where I was at, after losing my record contact, I thought we might as well put the song out there ourselves. The worse thing radio could have said was ‘no.’ But they loved it. Little by little, just like dominoes, everything worked out.
“All of this has definitely made me grow up lot. Honestly, I appreciate where I’m at now. I appreciate what I went through. I came up through the industry really fast, skipping the whole bar scene by going through Idol. For me, this has kind of been my way of paying my dues. It’s been a growing pain. I’ve had to figure some things out because 2016 was not fun by any means. That year truly sucked, but it was just one of those things. We’re better for it now than if we hadn’t gone through it.”
If you go: Acoustic Jam 2018
Performing: Dustin Lynch, Scotty McCreery, Locash, Michael Ray, Jimmie Allen and Run Away June
When: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 4
Where: Lexington Opera House, 401 W. Short
Call: 859-233-3535, 800-745-3000