The platinum-selling country 'Idol' champ unveils a holiday album mixing
new with (very) old-school fare
By Phyllis Stark Special to MSN Music
Just one album into a career, it's unusual for an artist to turn around and
release a Christmas set next, but 2011 "American Idol" winner Scotty McCreery says he "got lucky,"
even if he admits he did have to talk his record label into the idea.
"A lot of people have to wait a few years -- a lot of years -- before they
ever get to do a Christmas album," he says. "I just wanted to get it out there,
and I really put a lot of time and effort into it. Christmas is my favorite
In keeping with the music industry's strategy of releasing Christmas fare
before the Halloween candy has cleared the aisles, "Christmas With Scotty
McCreery" arrived in stores on Oct. 16.
The singer, who just turned 19 this month, grew up loving Christmas music and
performing it in school and church, so he was eager to get an album of his
favorites into the marketplace. With his first studio album, "Clear as Day,"
having been certified platinum for sales of more than 1 million units just three
months after its release last year, McCreery had a little leverage in gently
twisting the arms of executives at his label. Once they agreed to the idea, he
says, "They had my back on it, so it's been really nice to have their
Recording the album in August, during a scorching heat wave in Nashville,
posed a second set of challenges, which McCreery and his team overcame by
immersing themselves in holiday trimmings.
"We had Christmas lights, Christmas trees, Christmas cookies, Christmas hats;
it was Christmas-y in there," says McCreery with a grin. "That made it easy on
us, as long as we didn't go outside."
Plenty of country stars are releasing Christmas albums this holiday season,
including Blake Shelton and Lady Antebellum, but McCreery went out
of his way to make sure his set contained an extra element: the reason for the
season. He picked quite a few songs that focused on the holiday's religious
aspects, including "O Holy Night," "The First Noel" and "Mary Did You Know?"
"That's the main reason we celebrate," he says of the holiday's spiritual
base. "The presents and stuff, that's good and fun and all, but there would be
no Christmas without the birth of Christ. Going to church on Christmas Eve, we'd
read the Christmas story out of Luke and we'd always make sure we paid mind to
that and didn't just get caught up in Santa Claus or the worldly Christmas."
That same focus applied to the two original songs McCreery chose for the
11-song set: "Christmas in Heaven" and "Christmas Comin' Round Again."
"For a Christmas original, you either want to have a holly, jolly one that
makes you want to dance, or one that really touches you," says McCreery, who
picked two that fell into the latter category. "They had a lot of meaning."
That's not to say the album is all serious. It also contains fun standards
like "Let It Snow," a blusey "Santa Claus Is Back in Town," an energetic "Holly
Jolly Christmas" and a laid-back, vibey take on "Jingle Bells," among other
McCreery says selecting the songs to include was the hardest part of making
"I can't tell you how many hours I spent sitting there with a paper and
looking at different albums, and different lists of Christmas songs and
scratching them out, erasing some, and making marks trying to decide which ones
I wanted to do," he says. "But I think we got the 11 right. We got the ones that
I really wanted to put on the album."
Several had a history for the young singer. In fifth grade, he sang "O Holy
Night" at a holiday concert. And for several years, McCreery and a pal teamed up
to perform "Mary Did You Know?" at their church's Christmas Eve services. That
made those songs more meaningful to him when it came time to narrowing down the
choices of album cuts.
With that album finished, McCreery is now in the process of picking songs for
his next studio album, as well as trying to write some songs himself. The
pressure will be on for the Academy of Country Music's reigning New Artist of
the Year to top his own accomplishments.
"Clear as Day" debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 and Top Country
Albums charts, making McCreery the youngest male artist in history to open at
the top of the all-genre chart with a debut release. The album also racked up
the highest sales of any country solo album released last year, and held the No.
1 spot on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart for six weeks.
The gold record he received from his record label after "Clear as Day" sold
its first half million units is part of a new exhibit of McCreery career
memorabilia on display through Jan. 4, 2013, at the North Carolina Museum of
History in Raleigh, not far from McCreery's hometown of Garner. Among the other
items he donated to the museum is the outfit he wore when he sang his final
duet, with Tim McGraw, on "Idol" last year.
In addition to staying focused on his career, McCreery is enjoying his
freshman year at North Carolina State University, where he is majoring in
communications and living in an apartment with some friends.
"It's going great," he says of his first semester. "I'm enjoying it, just
getting out there and having a little freedom, living with the boys and studying
He's arranged his full, 12-hour course load into just two days a week,
Mondays and Wednesdays. And while that has given him the freedom to continue
touring with Brad Paisley, as well as coming to Nashville for appointments and
other business, there's one big downside. "All my quizzes and tests are due on
the same day," he says, rolling his eyes.
McCreery was recently ranked in the top five for the second year in a row in
Billboard magazine's lists of top artists under the age of 21, and he says he's
proud to be representing the music he loves on that list of music's most
"It's cool for me, especially, to represent country," he says. "Anytime you
can really wave the flag for country music I try to do it. Hopefully I can wave
the flag well."
Veteran entertainment journalist Phyllis Stark has been reporting
extensively on the music industry for two decades. As a freelance writer, her
work appears regularly in numerous publications and sites. She previously was
Nashville Bureau Chief at Billboard magazine.