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'Idol' winner Scotty McCreery juggles school and stardom

By Mike Ayers, Special to CNN
updated 11:19 AM EDT, Tue October 4, 2011
Scotty McCreery performs during the 2011 'American Idols Live!' tour in Newark, New Jersey.
Scotty McCreery performs during the 2011 'American Idols Live!' tour in Newark, New Jersey.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Season 10 "American Idol" winner Scotty McCreery has a debut album
  • The 17-year-old singer will juggle promoting his new album with his senior year
  • McCreery says "country music is real"

(CNN) -- This week, "American Idol" Season 10 winner Scotty McCreery releases his debut album, "Clear as Day."

As one would expect, the record's 12 songs feature his deep crooning voice paired with lyrics about new love and small town aspirations. Fans of the teen should come away satisfied with this first effort, in that it's pretty much what one might expect from a young musician with a gifted voice who one day found himself with a sizable record advance and access to coveted Nashville session players.

The 17-year-old McCreery is juggling his senior year of high school this fall along with promoting his album. So just how exactly does that work? CNN spoke with McCreery from his home in Garner, North Carolina, about just that as well as young love, and what drink he will walk miles to enjoy.

CNN: You're just starting your senior year in high school. What's the class schedule like?

Scotty McCreery: They didn't want me to have the first block because they didn't want me to be a distraction to kids getting to school. So I go in the second block and am there for the rest of the day. Next semester's going to be the tough one. I have AP English and all that jazz.

CNN: How's this work: You go on the "American Idol" tour, have amazing catering and then have to come back to cafeteria food?

McCreery: (Laughs) Yeah, the catering was amazing on the tour ... I probably gained a few pounds I'll have to run off. But they let us go off campus, the juniors and seniors; we have a really big school and the cafeteria can't fit us all in there. We go out to Bojangles or Chick-fil-A. But we had Mexican food today, El Dorado's.

CNN: Tell me about recording "Clear as Day."

McCreery: Oh yeah, it was a lot of fun. It was kind of like the traveling studio, you know. We started off in Nashville and recorded a bunch of songs and once we got the tracks laid down, when I was on tour, whatever city I was in we'd stop by a studio and they'd bring the equipment from Nashville and we'd lay down some vocals and then on to the next.

CNN: Looking back, does the record evoke certain themes?

McCreery: Yeah, we were talking about this today, actually.

It's got a cool thing about love. Not necessarily the boy-girl love or anything; it talks about everyday love, it talks about family love with kids and parents, love with loss, love for my hometown on "Water Tower Town." It's not necessarily one theme of love, but it's got a lot of influences. It's a cool way that I like to think of it.

CNN: It's very much rooted in what someone you're age would be going through: Summer love, figuring out girls, football games.

McCreery: For me, an emotion is an emotion, whether you're 70 or 17. At 70, you might have much more experience with it and know a little bit more about it, but if a 17 year old says they have a broken heart, in my eyes, they have one.

CNN: And those are some of the worst kinds.

McCreery: Oh, they're horrible, absolutely horrible.

CNN: Some country records are riddled with clichés; how do you avoid those?

McCreery: The whole cliché thing people think about country music, you know, "drinking with the boys" it isn't country music at all. Country music is real and talks about real-life situations and I think with this record we did that.

There's a song called "Back on the Ground" and it can talk about a college student or someone like me, where you want to get of town and go live life but then when you're at it for awhile, you can't wait to get back. I've been at home for maybe 10 days since February and any time I can get a chance to get home, it's a blessing.

CNN: Does going into this genre after "American Idol" give you a leg up versus other people coming out of that show that make a pop or an R&B record?

McCreery: You know, I'm not so sure exactly on that. But country fans are really loyal and they were really supportive of me. I didn't do the honky-tonk in the traditional way, but now, I'm the newbie in country music. I was the "American Idol" and all that, but now I'm making the transition and I'm low down the ranks. Just like the senior in high school who becomes the freshman in college. I got to work hard and hopefully get my sea legs and stay around for a bit.

CNN: Obviously, your voice is the bread and butter. How do you take care of it these days?

McCreery: On the road it was tough, singing every night and talking a lot. We had this thing called Throat Coat that we'd drink a lot. Anytime I don't have to be yellin' or talking, I'm trying to ease off on it. I'm using it a lot and I don't want to hurt it. It's my instrument.

CNN: You mentioned the song "Water Tower Town" -- it might be one of the only songs that gives a shout out to sweet tea.

McCreery: I think that was the only one. I was the guy on 'Idol' that walked six miles to [get some tea]. There was a time that I was going to go to McDonald's because that was the only place in California you could find sweet tea. I took a right instead of a left, and I ended up walking six miles to get some sweet tea. I kept thinking as I was walking "Man this is a long mile."

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