Long before winning American Idol in 2011, Scotty McCreery landed his first starring role at his hometown church. About two months after he was born, he took center stage as baby Jesus in the Christmas pageant.
Since then, he's been actively involved in his hometown church's holiday offerings.
"Yeah, we had the Christmas musicals, and I was always participated in the children's choir," he says. "I was going to do the adult choir, but I guess I can't really do that."
Instead, McCreery will be promoting his new album, Christmas With Scotty McCreery. During a visit to CMT, the upbeat artist talked about his new project, his holiday memories and his plans for 2013. Along the way, he also provides his reaction to being portrayed by a Saturday Night Live cast member in a recent skit.
CMT: For fans who are curious about this Christmas album, how would you describe it?
McCreery: Oh, my goodness. Well, it's definitely country, but you'll hear a little different Scotty in my voice and the styling behind it. The producer was describing it to someone as a Rat Pack feel, so we have that in there. But it's still your same ol' Scotty and the same ol' sound, for sure.
What kind of feeling were you going for? Warm and fuzzy? Classic Christmas?
Yeah, classic Christmas. I wanted to make sure this was a feel-good CD. I wanted people to listen to this and have a smile on their face and get excited about the Christmas season. In my opinion, it's the best time of the year.
You have some church hymns on here, too.
Yeah, we have "The First Noel" and "O Holy Night." And we have "Mary Did You Know?" and songs called "Christmas Comin' Round Again" and "Christmas in Heaven" -- two new ones that have great messages to them. They're great songs, and I'm really excited to have them.
I know you're famous for your low voice, but when you were recording "O Holy Night," how did you go about approaching that big note toward the end?
Yeah, I just kind of did it. I can get up there if I need to. (laughs) But I wanted to start it low enough that it wouldn't be too much of a hassle or too crazy. That was a song I sang when I was in fourth grade in the children's choir. I was Joseph in the children's play, so I sang that way back in the day. It was cool to record that.
What was your response to the Saturday Night Live skit when "you" and Michael Bublé sang that song?
Oh, I was pumped! I was on Twitter, and I think I was about to go to bed. And my Twitter blew up! So I knew I made it if I was on SNL.
Do you have a favorite version of "Mary Did You Know?"
I don't know if I have a favorite version, but that is one of my favorite songs. I grew up singing that song for two or three Christmases for Christmas Eve services. My buddy Cody and I would get up onstage, and we'd sing that for the church at night. I've grown up loving that song, and I'm glad we got to put it on the album. That was a definite for me to have on there.
What was it about these new songs that made you want to include them?
With "Christmas in Heaven," the cool story about that song is that the week before it was sent to me, I sat down on my bed and was writing a song called "Christmas in Heaven." I was writing it about my grandfather, who has passed on. I was writing about how we missed him here on Earth but wondering what Christmas was like in heaven. One of the lines I wrote down for the chorus was, "Who knows if there's snow falling on the streets of gold?" Then that song got sent my way by the choir director in my church in North Carolina. She was at a music conference and heard it and sent it my way. It was perfect. It was by LifeWay, and they were looking for a country artist to cut it. It was a perfect fit. I feel like we were supposed to cut that song.
And "Christmas Comin' Round Again" is the other one. That's just a great message and a great story song for Christmas time. It's got these stories about the healing power of Christmas and how things can change. There's a part in there talking about a divorcing couple and how they get together and have dinner with the kids. Then they end up staying up and laughing all night. It goes, "Who knows? They might work it out." Or at the end it talks about a person who hasn't been to church in a long time, then he walks in Christmas Eve to hear them sing "Silent Night." It really struck a chord with someone who started going to church again. It's one of those story songs that really hits home.
Looking ahead, what's coming up for you after Christmas?
We're already getting songs for the new album, so we'll be working on that. And we'll be out on the road in 2013 doing different shows. That's basically it -- hitting the road and making a new album. So I'll be staying busy, all the while staying in college. So it will be a cool time for me.