Scotty McCreery celebrated his 20th birthday earlier this month just like any other college kid might have — hanging out with friends and studying for an upcoming quiz and mid-term at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, where he’s a sophomore majoring in communications.
Then again, McCreery isn’t your typical college kid.
Since winning Season 10 of Fox’s hit show “American Idol” in 2011 — and winning over fans with his preternaturally deep voice and down-to-earth personality — McCreery has become one of country music’s hottest new stars.
His debut album, “Clear As Day,” was the best-selling solo album released by a country artist in 2011 and was certified platinum in just 13 weeks. He’s been named Top New Artist by Billboard and won best new artist honors at the Academy of Country Music Awards, the American Country Awards and the CMT Awards. In the last two years, McCreery has performed for President Barack Obama in Washington D.C., sung the national anthem at the World Series and performed in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
After opening shows for the likes of Brad Paisley and Kenny Chesney, he’s currently in the midst of his first headlining tour, “Scotty McCreery Weekend Roadtrip Tour 2013.”
“Whenever I hear myself on the radio, it’s still kind of crazy to think all this has happened. But we’re taking it day by day, taking it in stride and just having fun with it, enjoying ourselves. It’s all going good,” McCreery said during a recent phone interview from New York City, where he was attending the official release party for his third studio album, “See You Tonight,” later that evening.
“I’ll call that my official birthday party,” he said, laughing.
McCreery teamed up with producer Frank Rogers (Darius Rucker, Brad Paisley) on “See You Tonight,” a blend of contemporary and traditional country music that McCreery says is a more accurate reflection of who he is — both as an artist and as a person — than “Clear As Day.”
“Obviously with that first record, we’re still extremely proud of it, but we did it really quick, so with this record, we had over a year to work on it and decide what direction we wanted to go and what we wanted to say,” McCreery said. “For me, it’s all real life. I’m not writing stuff that I’m not living or around, so there’s some high-energy fun summer songs, there’s some songs that make you think.”
McCreery had a hand in writing five of the album’s 13 tracks, including the debut single “See You Tonight” as well as “Can You Feel It,” “I Don’t Want to Be Your Friend,” “Something More” and “Now.”
“I think any time you can really put down your thoughts on paper and into a song, that definitely makes it more personal,” he said. “Fans are getting a direct look into your mind and what you are thinking. I love the writing process and getting those thoughts out there.”
McCreery will treat local fans to tunes from both albums when his “Weekend Roadtrip” tour makes a stop at Bristol’s Viking Hall Civic Center on Sunday. Opening the 5 p.m. show will be Sony Nashville recording artist Angie Johnson, a former contestant on NBC’s “The Voice.”
McCreery attends classes at North Carolina State on Mondays and Wednesdays, then hops aboard his tour bus and hits the road Thursdays on his “Weekend Roadtrip,” which he extended in August after several sold-out shows on the first leg of the tour.
Juggling classes and a burgeoning music career is a challenge, McCreery admits.
“It is difficult, but it’s fun and I enjoy it,” he said. “By no means am I the best at managing my time yet. I still procrastinate just like any other college student, but we get it done and that’s the main thing.
“Education is important and it’s been that way in my life since I was growing up. I had grandparents that didn’t have the chance to go to college and told me, you better get to college, so obviously I’m going to try to make it work. I think as long as we’re still moving along in the music career and things are going good, we’ll continue. If it gets to the point where I need to put more time and energy into my career, then we’ll have to look back at things, but for now things are going great with both of them.”
McCreery said he owes much of that success to his close-knit group of family and friends, who help keep him grounded.
“They’ve got my best interests at heart and let me know their opinions,” McCreery said. “They’re not ‘yes men,’ they let me know what they’re thinking. I think as long as I have them there to keep me in check, it’s all good.”
That circle of friends includes John Luke and Sadie Robertson, the son and daughter of “Duck Dynasty” stars Willie and Korie Robertson.
McCreery was in Nashville for a performance on the Grand Ole Opry when the Robertsons tweeted they were in town, so he invited them to come watch him play.
“We struck up a friendship, and they invited me to come down to Louisiana and hang out with the family for the day, so we had some fun down there,” he said. “They’re awesome people, just like you see on TV.”
McCreery played Sadie Robertson’s Sweet 16 birthday party earlier this summer, and he’s scheduled to set sail with the “Duck Dynasty” crew on a Carnival cruise in July 2014.
It’s just the latest development in McCreery’s meteoric rise that still leaves the singer awestruck when he thinks about how far he’s come so fast.
“I could never have imagined all this would happen,” he said, “but hey, we’re glad it did, we’re blessed and we’re just having fun with it.”
Tickets to Sunday’s concert at Viking Hall range from $23 to $53. To purchase tickets or for more information, call the Viking Hall box office at 764-0188.