Thursday, June 16, 2011

Scotty Journey Began in Clayton

This is a neat article!


Clayton's Idol is now the American Idol.

And several local people who helped Scotty McCreery along the way are thrilled for the 17-year-old Garner High School student.

McCreery's journey to becoming America's newest singing heartthrob actually started in Clayton, when he was 15 years old. He won the Clayton Idol singing competition – his first public appearance – as part of the town's annual Harvest Festival.

It was a competition he almost didn't enter.

During the summer of 2009, his mother Judy, who had bought At The Beach Tanning Salon on N.C. 42 West in Clayton, was in her shop along with her son and Shirley Lowe, a part-time salon employee who also worked for the Clayton Area Chamber of Commerce.

"It was a Sunday, and we were gearing up for Clayton Idol," Lowe said. "Scotty has his guitar in the car and Judy said 'Scotty, sing a song for Miss Shirley.'"

According to Lowe, the shy McCreery didn't want to. "He said, 'Mom, I can't sing in front of people; I don't want to,' " Lowe said. "I begged him and really encouraged him."

After all of the customers had left, McCreery got the guitar out of the car and performed "Long Black Train" by Josh Turner.

"He was great, and I told him he should try out for Clayton Idol," Lowe said. "He didn't want to do it, but Judy and I kind of forced him to do it. I told her we needed and wanted him to do it because we didn’t have enough people.

"So to appease me, she kept encouraging him. She even paid the $25 entry fee and signed his name to the

McCreery auditioned and made the finals, which were held at The Clayton Center on a Friday night in front of approximately 250 people.

"I almost had to push him out on stage," Lowe said. "He was nervous but did a great job."
His version of Jamey Johnson's "In Color" wowed the judges: singer and N.C. Education Lottery host Tina Seldin Cash; Miss Johnston County's Outstanding Teen, Ciara Ellis; and Faye Parker, mother of

Clay Aiken of 2003 "American Idol" fame. McCreery was announced as the winner, receiving a standing ovation.

Heidi Stump, executive director of The Clayton Center, remembers the performance.

"Scotty clearly left an indelible impression on everyone in the audience," she said. "You could hear people gasping when they heard his unique voice and that talent. We were thrilled that we were able to
have him perform on our stage."

Cash recalled her impression of the youngster. "I was blown away," she said. "You could see it in the crowd – when he started singing, everyone was just in awe, as I was. One of the judges (Cash said it was Ellis) just giggled; she couldn't really say anything because he was just so good.

"My eyes got real big. I looked at Faye, then looked at him and thought to myself, 'This young man has got a voice.' "

Cash said that McCreery had an ease and presence about him that belied his youth. "He seemed very mature and with it and had no nerves that you could see," she said. "He sang so well and was so composed. I was totally impressed and blown away."

After the Clayton Idol competition, Judy McCreery asked about other performing opportunities for her son. Cash suggested the Country Music Showcase at Johnston Community College.

McCreery auditioned for CMS in October 2009, weeks after winning Clayton Idol, and was placed in the February 2010 show. In between his audition and the show, McCreery also performed at the Clayton Chamber of Commerce's Christmas Village, singing outside the chamber building at the corner of Main and Barbour streets.

Debbie Dunn, who was the Associate Director of Performing Arts at JCC and director of the Showcase at that time, remembered that baritone voice.

"He had the kind of voice that makes your jaw drop open when you hear it," said Dunn, who now is the manager of the Historic Garner Auditorium. "I also remember what a good guitar player he was."

Shortly after appearing at JCC, McCreery opened for country star Jason Michael Carroll at a charity event for children at The Longbranch club in Raleigh. Anita Kennedy, who works with Lowe at the tanning salon, said, "Scotty told my husband he wasn't nervous. He walked out on that stage like he owned it and played with the band like he'd always played with them."

Following an appearance at the Historic Garner Auditorium with a bluegrass band, McCreery and his family decided to fly to Milwaukee last July so their son could try out for the 10th season of "American Idol."

"I don't think Scotty knew how good he was until he did Clayton Idol and saw the reaction of the crowd," Kennedy said. "Every time we saw him, he got better and better."
Bud Moffett, a veteran musician of 45 years who has played alongside such music greats as Hank Williams Jr., Marshall Tucker, Clint Black, The Outlaws and Leon Russell, among others, mentored

McCreery and helped pick songs for his audition.

"Scotty was studio ready the very first time I heard him," Moffett said. "Besides having a phenomenal voice, he is just a regular, normal sweet kid who is very genuine – like a breath of fresh air.

"He doesn't try to come off as something he's not – he's a plaid-shirt, blue-jean wearing kid who loves his family, his friends, sports and his faith. He is unpretentious and not a phony. He's the kind of kid who every mother wants to marry her daughter."

To show how much they have meant to him, McCreery's family invited Lowe and Kennedy to attend the April 7 Idol taping in which Pia Toscano was voted off.

"It's one of the most amazing things that's happened to me," Lowe said. "All along, he has thanked me for the part I had in (his journey) and tells me how much I have meant to him and that maybe all of this happened for a reason."

Kennedy added, "He was really happy to see me and Shirley. He told us he loved us, gave us a big hug and was so grateful to us for coming."

Lowe was at her cousin's house in Wilmington on grand finale night May 25 and was confident Scotty would win.

When AI host Ryan Seacrest announced McCreery as the winner, Lowe said she "probably screamed loud enough to wake up the neighbors."

"Even though I knew he was going to win, it was still very exciting," she said.
Kennedy agreed. "I told his mom from the time he auditioned in Milwaukee I knew he was going to win," she said. "I jumped up and started hollering."

Dunn, who attended the Final 13 taping of Idol in March and helped the McCreery family with his homecoming show in Garner, was among the 8,200 fans at the RBC Center for the Idol finale viewing party.

"I've been in many places that were loud,' she said. "It was the loudest in terms of decibel level I had ever heard. It was like being at a sporting event where everyone in the arena is cheering for the same team."

Lowe said success has not changed McCreery, that he is the same kid who performed at Clayton Idol 18 months ago.

"The only difference between Scotty then and Scotty now is that he knows more people and more people know him. His character is real, and that's what makes him a star. I think it's his upbringing – his parents are wonderful people and that's the kind of person Scotty is, very special."

Dunn had a bold prediction for McCreery's future. "Country music fans are loyal and widespread," she said. "If that is what he chooses to do, I think Scotty will be the male version of Carrie Underwood (the 2005 AI winner).

"In two or three years, he'll be the one winning all of the awards. He carries himself with integrity and is someone we can all look up to, even though he's young."

(For a look at local musician Bud Moffett's link to McCreery, see the June 1 print edition of The Clayton News-Star).  — Staff Writer

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