Scotty McCreery is one of country music's most beloved stars and is among the genre's most distinct voices. He recently sat down with CMT for the network's prestigious CMT Stages series to share his experience of being catapulted from a small-town North Carolina teenager into instant fame on "American Idol." Then McCreery openly shares his professional struggle to move beyond his teenaged "American Idol" label into the realm of respected country music star. It wasn't easy. In fact, he said some of those days were the lowest of his life. But he rebounded, signed a new record deal, married his childhood sweetheart, and they had a son. Now McCreery has several chart-topping hits to his credit – including "5 More Minutes" and "Damn Strait." He tells his story and sings those hits and more on "CMT Stages."
"CMT Stages" is on YouTube now. You can also watch it at 9:10 a.m., 3:15 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. on CMT Music and at 11:10 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. on CMT Equal Play. (All times are Eastern.)
Here are six things to learn about Scotty McCreery from watching "CMT Stages":
1. American Idol was NOT Scotty McCreery's first Idol competition.
"Clayton Idol": Clayton, North Carolina, is a town about 10 minutes from McCreery's hometown of Garner, North Carolina. McCreery says he always knew there were better singers and guitar players than him, so he saw no reason to try. But his family pushed him forward. They forged his name and signed him up for Clayton Idol, the little town's version of "American Idol."
"I was too scared to try out," McCreery said, explaining that he had to after his folks signed him up. "I ended up winning the whole dang thing. It gave me a lot of confidence."
It was 2009, and McCreery sang Jamey Johnson's "In Color." He tried out for "American Idol" in 2010.
2. McCreery was 16 years old when he tried out for "American Idol." He was in an arena with 15,000 potential competitors and had little hope. When he went in front of the judges – Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson – he wanted to show off the lower range of his voice, so he famously sang Josh Turner's "Your Man."
After singing Turner and showcasing the low range of his voice, McCreery said he was afraid the judges thought he was a "one trick pony." He knew Travis Tritt and Randy Jackson had worked together previously, so he decided to "butter up the dog a little bit" and sang Tritt's "Put Some Drive In Your Country."
The song elicited a jaw-dropping retort from Tyler: "Well, hellfire save matches, (expletive) a duck and see what hatches."
3. After winning "American Idol," McCreery returned to high school, where he had to have armed guards escort him to every class.
"I remember picking out the most normal outfit I could because I was like, 'I don't want folks to think that I changed," he said. "I wanted to go be a normal student. But the powers that be wanted me to crank out music and go on tour, and we did."
4. McCreery was dropped from his first record deal the day before he had to be a celebrity mentor on "American Idol." He was depressed and broken, and when he wasn't in top form on the show, he was the subject of mean tweets accusing him of being rude to the contestants.
"I had two choices," he said. "I could either stay there and mope, or I could pick myself up by the bootstraps and put one foot in front of the other and eventually, maybe one day, head back up the mountain."
5. 2016 was the worst year of his life – but "5 More Minutes" turned things around.
McCreery lost one record label and was looking for another one. He knew he had "5 More Minutes" in his back pocket but didn't know the paperwork he'd signed after winning "American Idol" would make it complicated to get another record deal. He knew that releasing songs independently often didn't work. But he also knew that if he was going to bet on a song to save his career, he was betting on "5 More Minutes." He had just lost his grandfather and wrote it from his heart. He said it's still his favorite song he's written.
The song has also taken on new meaning since he and his wife, Gabi, are parents to their son Avery, who was born last fall.
"Live in the moment, be there as often as you can be there and try not miss anything. I don't want to miss a thing with little Avery."
6. The three F's are most important to McCreery – faith, family and friends.
McCreery says his wife, Gabi, is "Superwoman" and the "rock" in their family.
"Avery is so lucky to have her as a mama, and I'm lucky to have her as a wife."
McCreery wrote his current single, "It Matters to Her," about Gabi.
"It's about how little things add up and make a big difference over time," McCreery said, quoting his wife's favorite line in the song.
"Just shut up and listen to what she has to say," McCreery quotes. "That is her top line that I've ever written. She loves that line and reminds me of it often."