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Scotty McCreery gets his post-platinum country career back on track 

click to enlarge Scotty McCreery, with Joe Nichols, Ashley McBryde, Tucker Beathard, Thursday, Dec. 7, 6 p.m., Cowboys.
  • Scotty McCreery, with Joe Nichols, Ashley McBryde, Tucker Beathard, Thursday, Dec. 7, 6 p.m., Cowboys.
At age 17, less than five months after winning Season 10 of American Idol, Scotty McCreery plunged into a full-on country music career with the release of his Clear as Day debut album. That was back in 2011, and he’s since come to realize that everything was moving too fast for him to fully understand what he was getting into. At the time, he wasn’t even sure what type of artist he really wanted to be.

Given the circumstances, the Garner, North Carolina, native had to rely on outside writers so he could start recording immediately. The rush to release paid off commercially: Clear as Day went platinum as it spawned the hit singles “I Love You This Big” and “The Trouble with Girls.” But it didn’t necessarily make much of a statement about McCreery as an artist.

“You know, with the first album, it sold crazy well and it was exciting to see, but I really had no clue what I was doing,” admits McCreery, who’s now 24. “We put that thing together after the show, and it was what it was. The second album [2013’s See You Tonight] was definitely a better look at who I was as an artist at the time.” (McCreery actually put out a Christmas album in between the two releases, but doesn’t count that one.)

These days it’s safe to say McCreery has a much better grasp on the kind of music he wants to make, as well as a whole lot more insight into the inner workings of the country radio and record company industries. And he’s learned all that the hard way.

Four years after the release of See You Tonight,” McCreery finally found his way back up the charts with a self-released version of “Five More Minutes.” During that period between releases, he’d been dropped by Mercury Records, extricated himself from a contract with American Idol, and signed with new management — a constellation of events that will give any artist a career wake-up call.

The problems for McCreery had begun as he was finishing up his third proper album for Mercury, after which he was unceremoniously dropped by his label. The artist says he’s still not entirely sure what went wrong. But it didn’t help that he and the label had a serious difference of opinion about what song should be released as the first single. McCreery wanted to lead with “Five More Minutes,” a song he’d written after the recent death of his grandfather. The label favored “Southern Belle,” which is what ended up being released.

“The first single off of that record was definitely a pivot from where I traditionally like to be at with my music,” McCreery says, “I’ve been very consistent with saying ‘Five More Minutes’ was my favorite song off of the record, which probably tells you what I was fighting for.”

“Southern Belle” stiffed on radio and the next thing McCreery knew, his essentially finished follow-up album went into limbo. It’s only over this past year that his career has begun to get back on track. His emotional 2016 performance of “Five More Minutes” at the Grand Ol’ Opry last year went on to become an internet sensation.

“We weren’t expecting that to go onto You Tube,” McCreery said of the venue’s decision to post the clip online. “But they did and it really organically just kind of blew up. I think it’s at 21/2 million views or something like that. It was never really something we pushed. But it got shared a lot on Facebook. I woke up one day and looked at Facebook and saw I was like the No. 1 trending topic. At first I was like ‘Uh-oh, what did I do?’ But it was nice to see that folks were responding to that song.”

McCreery self-released “Five More Minutes” back in May, and it went on to be the first single without record label backing to crack the Mediabase 24/7 Country Top 50. Three months later, he inked a deal with the Sony-affiliated Triple Tigers Records.

All of which means a new album is finally on its way. In the meantime, there are concerts to play. In addition to “Five More Minutes” and other newer songs, McCreary says he and his band are still playing a lot of material from the second album, along with some songs from the debut and a handful of covers.

“We do an oldies medley where we throw it back some,” he says. “It kind of depends on the show, but we’ve done Merle Haggard, Randy Travis, George Jones and Conway Twitty, folks who came before me and laid the groundwork.”

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