Los Angeles — Scotty McCreery, the 17-year-old country crooner from Garner, has captured the “American Idol” crown.
"I never in my wildest dreams," said McCreery, a 17-year-old with a strikingly deep, old-soul voice that contrasts with his youth. "I've got to thank the Lord first ... he got me here."
McCreery bested fellow country singer Lauren Alaina, 16, during Wednesday’s finale of the Fox reality show.
The teenager seemed overwhelmed as he took the stage for a celebratory version of his single "I Love You This Big," halting to embrace his parents in the audience, Alaina and others. Then he playfully stuck his tongue out, trying to catch falling confetti.
"It really is a great song and a great way to start off my career," McCreery told WRAL News after the win.
McCreery debuted the single Tuesday night, after performing Montgomery Gentry's "Gone" and George Strait's "Check Yes or No.”
After host Ryan Seacrest announced McCreery as the winner, more than 8,000 fans watching the broadcast at the RBC Center in Raleigh erupted into cheers.
"We're such a small town and for something like this to happen, it's amazing," said Stephen Jones, a member of the Blue Crew, the fan group who has supported McCreery throughout the competition.
McCreery said he wished he could have been in both places at once.
"I just can't wait to get back home to Garner," McCreery said.
“Idol” judges said Tuesday that Alaina, of Rossville, Ga., had won the night after an emotional performance of her potential single, “Like My Mother Does.” She also sang Carrie Underwood's "Flat on the Floor" and "Maybe It Was Memphis" by Pam Tillis.
McCreery said he and Alaina have become close.
"We're just such close friends. Lord knows, it's just the beginning," he said.
McCreery's parents say that college is not negotiable for the teen. They hope that they will attend college possibly part-time at Belmont University in Nashville.
McCreery’s ascent to “American Idol” champ has been relatively painless. He was never among the bottom vote-getters and enjoyed praise from the judges each week.
McCreery's "Idol" journey began last year when he auditioned in Milwaukee singing Josh Turner's "Your Man" and Travis Tritt's "Put Some Drive in Your Country."
After singing "Your Man," a few times in earlier rounds, it became McCreery's unofficial theme song. Turner even surprised McCreery on stage on May 14 in Garner during a celebration in the teen's honor.
“Winning 'American Idol' would be great, but just to get into the industry and to be a part of the music industry and be in Nashville and sing with the greats – that's a dream," McCreery said during an interview with WRAL News in February.