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Scotty McCreery Talks How New Album 'Seasons Change' Reflects His Life's Ups & Downs: 'I've Matured a Lot'

Scotty McCreery
Jeff Ray

Scotty McCreery

When Scotty McCreery was 16 years old, he tried out for American Idol in hopes of, at the very least, getting reassurance that his dream of becoming a singer was a realistic goal. Singing an impressive rendition of Josh Turner's country smash "Your Man" for Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler, McCreery got validation from the Aerosmith frontman -- in the form of the unforgettable phrase "Well hellfires, save matches, fuck a duck and see what hatches.”

“That’s when I knew I was at least gonna be on TV,” McCreery recalls with a laugh. “I literally had that thought, like, 'I’m in the middle of an American Idol moment right now.'"

Four months after McCreery's audition aired, Tyler's comical reaction didn't sound quite so crazy after all, when the country crooner was crowned American Idol's Season 10 winner on May, 25, 2011. Despite still being in high school, McCreery got to work on his debut album, Clear As Day, which he released less than five months later.

Fast forward seven years from McCreery's win, and the now-24-year-old is three albums into his career -- but getting there hasn't always been easy. In the last 3 years alone, McCreery has been dropped by UMG Nashville, lost his grandfather, moved away from home, and was robbed at gunpoint.

It hasn't been all bad for the singer, though, as he's gotten engaged to his best friend, Gabi Dugal, and found a new label home that he loves, new Nashville label Triple Tigers. He also marked an important career milestone this March by notching his first No. 1 single on the Country Airplay chart, with the poignant ballad "Five More Minutes." And now, McCreery's ups and downs have been documented in his 11-song Seasons Change LP (which dropped March 16).

“That’s a lot of life in those seven years, for anybody, not just an artist,” McCreery says. “You learn a lot about yourself. I think I know a lot more about what I wanna say on a record today than I did on my last record or my first record, by far.”

Billboard caught up with McCreery to hear about what's he's been through in the half-decade since 2013's See You Tonight, and how it all resulted in his best songs yet -- and moreover, proved that he's far more than just another competition TV show winner. Take a look at an edited transcript of the conversation below.

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In 2016, I was talking to different kinds of attorneys. It wasn’t a waste of a year, but we couldn’t work. We couldn’t go on the road with music. We couldn’t do anything. I’ve got a lot of love for Idol and what they provided for me, but it’s common knowledge of the contract -- they lock you up pretty good.

I had a full record ready to go with UMG Nashville that they shelved, so now it was like, “We just gotta start over.” And the labels still had the rights to “Five More Minutes” and “In Between,” because they recorded it -- my best songs that I’ve ever written, and I didn’t even own them.

I was pretty down. I thought I’d be good, and then I’d go, “Dang, this really sucks.” Then I was in the shower -- I think I was even sitting down in the shower, because I was in a place for sure. I was like, “You know what? Screw it. You’ve had a great life. You get to sing country music for a living. You get to travel the world. You’ve got fans that go to your shows no matter where you’re at. You’ve got records. Your life is incredible. To be sitting here and having a pity party for yourself... Pick yourself up and just go after it. You’ll be fine.” It took me a little bit to get to that point. Not a lot of time, but once I got there, I was like, “Alright, you’ll be good.”

I knew that we were working toward the end-goal of getting a new deal, so, halfway through the year I started writing songs again for a new record. I started writing the best songs I’ve ever written -- I was just hungry to write songs again.

“Seasons Change” was the first song I wrote after getting dropped. I was still at a pretty low point. Still no label, still didn’t own my songs. And I wrote that song like, “I got faith. We’re gonna come out of this alright. Just gotta pick yourself up by your bootstraps and move on.” That’s where that song came from. I just wanted to write about where I was at in life.

This record is, in my opinion, leaps and bounds better than what we had in 2015. The record that I had at Universal that was ready to go was a lot like my second record -- I wrote a couple songs and the rest were pitched to me, and it wasn’t too personal. You weren’t gonna learn that much about me. There were good songs on there, but not even close to what we have on this record. It’s so much better, to me, writing songs that only you can sing. Only I could sing “Five More Minutes,” because it’s my story. It’s [about] my grandaddy. That’s my story, but I think people relate to every part of the song.

We sang [“Five More”] live at the Grand Ole Opry, and kinda debuted it for the fans in [June] 2016, and I’ve never had a standing ovation at the Opry like that, period. Somebody said the other day, “The Opry crowd, they wanna sit. They don’t wanna stand up.” Opry put it on their YouTube channel -- we didn’t know they were gonna do it, and I woke up the next morning and I’m the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter and Facebook. I was like, “Crap, what did I do last night?” Trying to jog my memory. Then I saw it was that video, and I was like, “Dang!” It was getting shared like hotcakes. We had a good indication that it was gonna work [as a single].

Once we finally got freed and got [“Five More Minutes” and “In Between”] back in December 2016, I just wanted to go to labels and shop them. Triple Tigers was fired up about “Five More Minutes.” We released the song in May, Triple Tigers didn’t come on until July. The song started getting some heat, and they were excited. I love everyone there at Triple Tigers, they’re really got the best interest at heart and they’re fighting for me. I can tell they’re fighting for me. That’s what you want.

Gabi was also an anchor for me. She was always kind of a great sounding board, which leveled me off when I was too high or too low. She influenced a lot of the songs on the record. “This Is It,” I wrote two weeks before we got engaged -- I had in my mind how it was gonna go. Luckily the day went exactly as planned, so that song made the record. [Laughs.]

I feel like as a man and as an artist, my confidence in songwriting is at all-time high. What’s on my mind, what I wanna say, I feel like I can put that into song. A few years ago that wasn’t the case, I felt like I’ve got that craft. I’m still learning, still got a long way to go, but as a man I feel like I’ve matured a lot. Getting knocked down and coming back up again, that’ll build a lot of character. You can see what’s inside of you when things don’t go your way.

Everybody’s seen me work hard for it. Persistence was a big part of this record. We weren’t gonna be benign on this album. I’m not gonna lie, I love proving people wrong. If somebody says "You can’t do something," or "I don’t believe you can do something," all that’s gonna do is fire me up and add fuel to the fire. Anybody who thought we’d go away when we got dropped from the label underestimated my will power.

I feel like early on there might’ve been people in the business or on radio that think, “Oh, this guy just came from TV, this has been handed to him.” But now, they’re like, “Dang, this guy has been traveling the world, he’s been through a lot, he’s paid his dues and he’s here to stay.” That’s what I’m working for.

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