Scotty McCreery: 21 Under 21 (2012)
Scotty McCreery at Billboard Studios, October 2011.

"American Idol" champ Scotty McCreery is excited to be hitting the road supporting Brad Paisley in the early part of 2012. But he's going in with his guard up.

"I've got to keep my eyes open, 'cause (Paisley) is a huge practical joker," McCreery tells Billboard.com. "I have to make sure I don't get pranked too bad." Or he could strike first. "Well...I've got a couple in my back pocket," McCreery acknowledges. I've got to think of something good, 'cause he's very unique with his."

McCreery and the Band Perry roll with Paisley starting Jan. 12 in Grand Rapids, Mich., and finishing March 3 in Lexington, Ky. "It's just going to be incredible," the Granger, N.C., 18-year-old predicts. "I've grown up listening to Brad, loving his music. I can probably sing every single one of the words to his songs. It's gonna be fun, and a learning experience for me. It's gonna be a great time."

Scotty McCreery Talks 'Clear As Day': Video Track-By-Track

McCreery can probably count on fans singing along during his set as well. His debut album, "Clear As Day," came out in early October and made "Idol's" youngest-ever male champ the youngest male artist to ever debut atop Billboard 200, a feat he calls "pretty wild, just incredible." His first single, "I Love You This Big," was in the Top 15 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and Country Songs chart, while the new "The Trouble With Girls" is currently on the ascent.

"I was in California rehearsing for the (American Idols Live!) tour, and Mark (Bright, 'Clear As Day's' producer) sent it to me through an e-mail and said, 'Listen to this one,' " McCreery recalls. "I thought it was incredible. I stopped what I was doing and called my mom back at home and said, 'Listen to this one.' It just had a piano and the melody to it, but it just stuck with me. I was humming it for days. I'm glad we put it out there as (a single)."

After singing the national anthem at Game 1 of this year's World Series, McCreery will appear at the Country Music Association Awards on Nov. 9 and at the Dec. 5 American Country Awards, where he's nominated in the New Artist of the Year category. Mostly, however, he's laying low, attending classes at Garner Magnet High School, and the Paisley tour will finish in time to allow him to graduate with his senior class and maybe even play a final season with the baseball team. "When I'm home I like to be as normal as possible," McCreery notes. "I was worried about how the other kids would react, but they treat me like I never left. These are kids I've grown up with since I was two years old, so as much as other people expected it to be weird, in the back of my hear, I knew it wouldn't be."

And while he's going through prom and the other pre-graduation rituals, McCreery also plans to keep watching "Idol" and enjoy the perspective of being an alumnus.

"I'm looking forward to it like no other season," he says. "I'll be watching those kids and know exactly what they're going through and the nerves they're feeling. It'll be fun to watch -- I mean, I've watched for 10 seasons strong now, but it'll definitely be different to watch it this year."