Scotty McCreery has had some awfully big moments in 2011, not the least of which was being crowned winner of Season 10 of "American Idol" in front of a huge nationally televised audience.
But his North Carolina homecoming ranks right up there.
Wednesday night, the American Idols LIVE! tour stopped in Raleigh, which is just minutes from McCreery's hometown of Garner; he and his 10 fellow finalists spent the night in a hotel in the capital, then their caravan of tour buses rolled on to Charlotte's Time Warner Cable Arena for a Thursday night show.
"It was definitely a moment I'll never forget going out to the RBC Center, an arena that I grew up in, watching the Hurricanes and the Wolfpack and seeing a lot of games there. Performing there was crazy," the 17-year-old country singer said during an interview at TWC Arena a few hours before Thursday's concert.
He said several friends and family members were at the Raleigh show, and several more - including his father, Mike, and his sister, Ashley - were in Charlotte Thursday.
"My sister goes to UNC Charlotte, so I've got some ties down here," McCreery said. "A lot of her friends and my friends go there as well, so I've been down here many a time. ... It's always nice to be in North Carolina, (and) being in the biggest city in North Carolina is just a plus."
McCreery wasn't able to see much of Charlotte on Thursday. But during his very brief visit home to Garner on Wednesday, McCreery packed in a lot, including a stop by his old workplace (Lowes Foods, where he worked as a cashier), a surprise visit to the high school's football practice, and a walk with his family at Lake Benson Park.
The "American Idol" tour is still a long way from over, with another 30 shows slated between now and Sept. 10. On his days off, McCreery has been working on his debut studio album, which he says he hopes will be released by fall. It's a drastically different life than he was living a year ago, when he was preparing to start his junior year at Garner Magnet High School.
"It's definitely been a change, and it's gonna take some getting used to," he said. "I mean, there's no more walking in a restaurant and having a normal dinner."
As for his senior year?
"What we're looking at it is getting through all this, getting the album out, and promoting it. And then maybe I can get the chance to go back to school and to walk around campus. 'Cause it's my senior year. I did this 'Idol' thing, and it got me to where I'm at now, but you don't want to miss out on those memories of your senior year. So hopefully I can get back. It'll be a weird thing, 'cause I'll still be working, but ..."
Then McCreery said something you don't hear come out of a 17-year-old boy's mouth very often ... if ever: "What I'd give to get back behind the desk and take a test."