Raleigh, N.C. — Scotty McCreery came home Monday night to the arena where he attended concerts as a kid. After the first of two sold-out shows at Dorton Arena, McCreery and his band gathered backstage for ribbing and memories.
"Oh my goodness, it was incredible," he gushed. "The fans were great. I used to come to concerts here when I was a kid so actually to be on the stage was pretty cool."
Bass player Nathan Thomas was the first to speak up about the effect McCreery has on his (mostly female) fans. "I half split my time between looking at which girl is crying and looking at Scotty. It's kind of fun," he said.
The American Idol winner, North Carolina State University freshman and self-described "low-key dude" deftly balances his work in the classroom against the duties of a country star.
"Today was weird because I had class and then the show," McCreery said. "My mind was all whacked out. I was writing a speech and then, an hour later, I was coming to Dorton Arena to sing. But hey, it was cool by me."
On campus, McCreery says, he is just one of the thousands of students. On stage, it is a whole different world.
"As an artist that's the kind of reaction you want," he said of the screaming fans. "It means they're listening to your songs and buying your records, and that keeps me on the road so, you know, it's a good reaction to see. I love it!"
For members of McCreery's band, who have been with him for just about a year, the concerts at the North Carolina State Fair are their second taste of the Garner native's hometown fans. Drummer Joey Sanchez recalled a concert last fall at Time Warner Cable Music Pavilion at Walnut Creek as his initiation to Scotty mania.
"We walked out, and there's 18 to 20,000 people just going nuts," Sanchez said.
"I've worked for a lot of people that will never have a fraction of the success Scotty's had, and he's more humble than probably anyone I've ever worked with," he added.
Each of the band members echoed that impression.
"He's the same person on-stage as he is off-stage, and that's really refreshing because a lot of other artists aren't like that," said Justin Ward.
"I feel honored to be singing with the guy who won 'American Idol,'" said Jeff Harper. "I mean, what more could you ask for than be to singing backup for that guy?"
Guitarist Matt Reviere said McCreery's clean-cut reputation makes him proud to call him a colleague and friend.
"It's really great when you're walking through the airport or something with Scotty and people are recognizing him," he said.
McCreery turned the compliments back on the band, calling them "some of the best players around."
Clearly, the group enjoys their voyage together.
"We all have a sense of humor. Take a ride on our bus one night and you'll see," McCreery said.
McCreery's tour manager, Raleigh native Mike Childers, also mentioned the chemistry that keeps them centered. "Scotty is great. His family is great. That goes without saying because of the way he is. The guys are great," Childers said.
All are playing and laughing their way along the ride of a lifetime.
Childers said he was in the audience when McCreery auditioned for "American Idol." Former contestant Danny Gokey was trying to get the crowd excited, saying, "The next 'American Idol' could be sitting right up in these stands." Childers recalled scoffing at the comment.
"And a year later, I'm hanging out with that "American Idol" winner," he said.
Christmas CD recorded in August
McCreery also marked the release of his Christmas album Tuesday.
"We did this album in the middle of August and it was 110 degrees in Nashville. It was right during a heat wave, and we were singing 'Let it snow' and all kinds of stuff," he said.