Scotty McCreery on Why Going No. 1 With 'This Is It' Validated His Career: 'We're Really Here to Stay'

Jeff Ray
Scotty McCreery

Last year was monumenal for Scotty McCreery. In a matter of months, the 25-year-old Garner, N.C., native scored his first No. 1 on the Country Airplay chart; dropped his Triple Tigers debut LP Seasons Change; married his longtime love Gabi Dugal; and released his heartfelt second single "This Is It." This year is proving to be just as special for McCreery, as "This Is It" -- a love letter to his now-wife -- topped Country Airplay in February, earning the singer his first two-week No. 1.

In turn, "This Is It" became McCreery's highest-charting Billboard Hot 100 hit since 2011, when he hit No. 11 with his American Idol-winning tune "I Love You This Big." But even though "This Is It" didn't peak as high on the Hot 100 (the song hit No. 42 in February), this one is much more special for a multiude of reasons.

"'I Love You This Big' was a song that was kind of handed to me, a TV kind of song," McCreery explains. "This one, I wrote it, it’s from the heart, it’s about my wife, and it’s eight years down the road with a lot of hard work, blood, sweat and tears put into this thing to make things happen. ... To still have songs that folks are identifying with eight years [later], that means a lot."

McCreery chatted with Billboard about the romantic story behind his latest single and why the success is so validating.

What inspired you to write “This Is It” to propose to Gabi?

I knew I was going to pop the question, so I wanted to write a song around what I was envisioning for the day. It happened exactly like I wrote it, up in the mountains of North Carolina. The first time she heard it was the night we got engaged. There were definitely some tears shed.

Did writing "This Is It" make you even more nervous to pop the question, because the song sets up such a perfect proposal?

A little bit. I was nervous just in general for popping the question. But the place that we got engaged is kind of our secret spot where we go hiking, so I planned on going there -- it was just making sure everything happened on time. I had her family flying in, so there were a lot of logistics that had to fall in place. But it all worked out. She said yes -- that’s all that matters.

Though the whole song is super personal, do you have a favorite lyric?

“I know that you been waitin’ and I’ve been waiting too," because I had the ring in the closet for probably four or five months. I was waiting for the right time, but I was scared she might open the closet and do some clothes hunting. I had it in a shoebox, in a shoebox, in another shoebox, so she would’ve had to been really looking for it. [Laughs]

What went into the rollout strategy for this song and getting it to No. 1 this year when it was released last May?

I wrote this song for Gabi. But when I played it for my label, Triple Tigers, they wanted it on the radio. At the time, Triple Tigers was just me and Russell [Dickerson], which gave us time to work out a strategy. That’s been one of the nicest things about Triple Tigers: It’s laser-focused, and that’s something I didn’t feel before. The head of the label on down, I’m getting texts and calls, we’re working together -- it’s a pretty fun way to do business.

The song tested really well [at radio], which showed that the listeners were enjoying it and weren’t turning the radio dial when they heard it. But there’s also strategy in which markets you go to and seeing the folks. In country music, there’s such a bond between the artist and country radio. It feels like family, so for me, it’s cool to go to these stations and thank them for playing it. It’s definitely relationship-based, and it feels like they’re very much a part of our team.

How did the two-week No. 1 with "This Is It" feel different than topping Country Airplay with "Five More Minutes" last year?

“Five More Minutes” was just huge because I had waited seven years for that to happen and worked so hard. This one was more validating for me. To have two [No. 1s] feels like we’re really here to stay, the songs are really resonating with folks, and radio’s really accepting me for who I am and my music for what it is. Especially for it to be two weeks; that’s huge.

I was following it all week [when it had the potential for a second week at No. 1]. We were on the road, and as soon as it hit midnight, we had a huge celebration, popped champagne. I got home and did the same thing with friends and family. We had a big round of golf with all of my buddies, had champagne in all of our carts. We definitely celebrated for two weeks. The week after, I had to go on a cleanse. We went hard. [Laughs]

You still drive the truck you won on American Idol. Have you heard “This Is It” on the radio in the truck?

The truck is my baby; her name is Loretta [after Loretta Lynn]. I’ll drive that thing till the wheels fall off. When [Gabi and I] got our first puppy, right when we got back in the car, “This Is It” was playing. There’s been a lot of things that have happened like that with this song -- it feels like it was meant to be. Every time we hear it, we look at each other and smile.

A version of this article was published in the March 23 issue of Billboard.