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‘American Idol’ winner McCreery mixes career, school

Reigning “American Idol” champ Scotty McCreery performs in Spokane tonight. (Associated Press)
Reigning “American Idol” champ Scotty McCreery performs in Spokane tonight. (Associated Press)

MINNEAPOLIS – Scotty McCreery had just come home from school with an assignment: write essays for college applications.

Wait a minute. Isn’t he the reigning American Idol? Isn’t he on tour with Brad Paisley?

The high school senior plans to be on campus in the fall. In December, the 18-year-old was putting the finishing touches on applications. He’s committed to his career but determined to go to college part-time, too.

“College is important to me. Education is important to me. You never know how far your job can take you,” said McCreery, who plans to study marketing or communications – something that will help in his profession.

“Being aggressive is something that needs to happen,” McCreery said from his family home in Garner, N.C. “Even when I was on the show, I remember talking to the producers saying that I want my album to come out quickly because I don’t want the people forgetting about me. I’m going to work my tail off.”

The people have certainly responded. McCreery’s album, “Clear as Day,” established two records: the first country newcomer and the youngest male to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart.

“That was something different,” McCreery said in his typically modest, aw-shucks way. “I was extremely humbled by it, but we were ecstatic. When I heard the news, I was running all around the house.”

Of course, not everybody has warmed to the languid Southern crooner with the strikingly deep voice, Mad-magazine face and goofy eyebrow-raising gestures. Entertainment Weekly magazine named “Clear as Day” one of the five worst albums of 2011.

“Is that so?” McCreery said the day after the magazine came out. “There you go. You can’t win ’em all.”

What really stands out about McCreery is his poise, his maturity. On “American Idol,” he exhibited the confidence and charisma of someone twice his age. He credits baseball.

“My dad pitched in college and he raised me on the pitcher’s mound,” McCreery said. “If you’re the pitcher, all eyes are on you – everybody in the stands and the team is depending on you. Being onstage and having all eyes on me, it’s kind of a transition from baseball to the stage for me.”

Working with producer Mark Bright (Carrie Underwood, Reba McEntire), McCreery picked pieces for “Clear as Day” by such Nashville stalwarts as Craig Wiseman, Rhett Akins and Chris Tompkins. There’s nothing about drinking or cheating, though. McCreery stuck with age-appropriate material – singing about writing a girl’s number on his hand, living in a small town and appreciating the demands on his mom.

“Going into the song-picking process, we all thought it was going to be a bigger challenge than it really was,” he said. “They had to be songs I could relate to. … All the songs speak to my life.

“I’ve only had one serious girlfriend,” he said matter-of-factly. “And it was a 13-year-old serious relationship, so it wasn’t too much. … But heartbreak is heartbreak, whether you’re 18 or whether you’re 40.”

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