Be Unique! Insights at WDW from American Idol's Scott McCreeryby Jeff Kober, contributing writer
It's a bright sunny Memorial Day at Disney's Hollywood Studios.
It's a pretty heady experience. Everywhere you look is a sea of signs, cameras and fans. It's a moment that could happen anywhere, but it seems to happen most often at here Walt Disney World.
Making the rounds with the autographs and the photos, McCreery steps on stage. The host asks if he has any advice for American Idol hopefuls.
"Be unique and have fun. Don't be nervous, or you've already lost the battle. Anyone can do it. I was bagging groceries just a year ago. Leave everything on the audition stage."
Be unique? Hmmm. Is that what makes Scotty McCreery so special?
So stepping backstage to talk to McCreery, I'm really curious about what makes this kid—all 17 years of him—unique. I mean, is it really possible that just anyone could make it to American Idol, much less become its star singer?
I step into a director's chair across from him. Some members of his entourage accompany him, but Scotty focuses mostly on his mom just a few feet away. Between interviews, he casually mentions having to go home to Garner, N.C., to take a high school math test.
"The American Idol Experience is probably going to be as close as you're going to get to the actual Idol experience we have on the show. The audition process and then being on the show with the host—I was enjoying it. I had a big grin the whole time they were doing it because I could feel what they were feeling when they were on stage. It was a lot of fun for us."
After Sunday night's show he had a chance to ride Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. I ask him about any other trips he's made to Walt Disney World and he mentioned taking one when he was 12. But his biggest memory of the resort came when he was just a child:
"I remember taking a picture with Mickey in front of the castle. But mainly it was the Haunted Mansion. You ask my mom, I was scared. I was young…I was really young…and it kind of scarred me."
Performing live in front of thousands of fans and millions more on TV, it's hard to imagine that 999 Grim, Grinning Ghosts once intimidated him. As the winner of American Idol's 10th season, I asked if he watched the show as a 7 year old. He said that he missed season one of American Idol, but that he has been watching ever since the second season.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the walls of Hollywood Hideaway, one can hear potential candidates for that day's show screaming in excitement about being cast to be on the American Idol Experience.
Having personally seen the supportive process candidates go through to be selected for the American Idol Experience, I was interested in who supported McCreery on his way to the top. He's quick to share insight on those behind the scenes:
"Something a lot of people don't know about we have vocal coaches and we have pianists that work with us. Peisha McPhee, Katharine McPhee's mom, was my vocal coach. And Michael Orland, he was a our pianist and our vocal coach. They helped us out a lot with our arrangements. Like if we were singing a song they had one power note…we'd mess around with it and figured where we would go with that. They really helped everything pop and stand out."
I come around to McCreery's point about being unique. What did he mean by that? When did he finally have that "a-ha moment" that showed him what he needed to do to win? McCreery said:
"It was Hollywood week when I was sitting there and there was 300 of us. And I remember sitting there in the big room and they would call us to the line. And they'd say, "You four come up and the rest of you in the back, you're cut.
"There were so many singers that were just phenomenal and were being cut. I was sitting at home and I was like wondering what in the world should I do because many of them could do more crazy stuff than me. I can't do those vocal gymnastics.
"But you got to stand out. That's what's got to happen before they lock the doors. You must stick out in peoples minds. That's what you've got to do. You've got to be unique and stick in their minds."
We talk a few more minutes about what it means to "Live Like You Were Dying," a number he sang with the song's original singer, Tim McGraw, during the season finale.
"It's just every day we're gonna wake up and we don't know if it's going to be your last day. You wake up and you thank the Lord for waking you up again…you sing this song with Tim and you've just got to understand you can't sing that song and not feel it, otherwise it would just come across as fake. You just have to sit down and think about it sometimes and think about life…I've had a lot of life experiences for being 17. People probably think for being so young I don't understand a lot of the world, but I've been through a lot."
I take a few photos and thank him for his time. Quietly I slip out. An hour later I'm at the first show of the day at The American Idol Experience. Again, the crowds are screaming as Scotty McCreery steps out to help announce the winner of that show. Three very ordinary tourists auditioned, and now they are all waiting to hear their fate.
The winner of this show will go to a final show of that day. If they're voted the favorite, they receive a "Dream Ticket" that will allow him or her to bypass the queue at one of the regional American Idol auditions. Aaron Kelly, who finished fifth in the ninth season of American Idol, was one of those "Dream Ticket" winners.
The audience, once hushed, now applauds in favor of a 16-year-old girl as McCreery calls her name.
Silently, I wonder if just some day, she'll be on American Idol, as well. She will if she is unique—as unique as Scotty McCreery, who is just a down-home kid that wanted to sing for others while he was on vacation.