When the "Idols Live" tour kicked off July 6, season 10 champ Scotty McCreery and some of his fellow contestants found the perfect way to chill before performing for the crowd in Salt Lake City.
"The very first night we pranked Jacob Lusk. We poured a bucket of ice on him in the shower," McCreery said by phone from Milwaukee, coincidentally the city of his "Idol" audition. "It just got us laughing so hard."
Who knows what sort of ice breaker McCreery and the rest of the top 11 have in mind when the tour hits Nassau Coliseum Tuesday and Wednesday nights? (Perhaps a shoutout to semifinalist Robbie Rosen of Merrick, who'll be in Tuesday's audience.)
For the country crooner from Garner, N.C., the whole "Idols Live" experience has been "pretty crazy," but in a good way. "Coming off of the show, I don't think any of us knew what to expect, but it's definitely a lot more fun, a lot more free," he said. "On the show, you're always worried about what the judges are going to say afterward. What the people are thinking back home watching the show. And now you're just up on stage having fun and you're just going out there to entertain, and that's what we want to do. It's cool for us."
And it seems to be selling tickets, too. According to Billboard's Boxscore chart, "Idols Live" tickets sales have averaged 97 percent this year, with sellouts in at least eight venues, a sharp boost from last year's soft sales which resulted in seven tour dates being canceled. Audiences seem to be responding to this year's top 11, and headliner McCreery, in particular, who performs a mix of up-tempo and slow, sentimental songs, including his coronation anthem "I Love You This Big." ("I thought it was a really good song for the 'Idol' moment," he says.) And he's also gotten to perform "When You Say Nothing at All" with runner-up Lauren Alaina, a frequent duet partner on "Idol." But, McCreery says, the two aren't making beautiful music together offstage.
"We're just good friends. People always speculated because they wanted to make something out of it in the teen magazines, but we've never been anything more than friends and I don't think we ever will be," he said.
Songs a mother could love
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With his hectic schedule, McCreery wouldn't have much time for romance anyway. Besides the tour, he's been a fixture in the recording studio working on his debut album, which should drop in time for the holiday-shopping season, "Now we're getting the master mixes and getting it to where it's exactly to what we want it to sound like on the album," he says. "People can just expect a nice, fun album. There'll be some songs that will make you dance and get up and move around, and there'll be some songs where you'll just sit back and ponder life and think about things."
And then there are those tunes that passed what McCreery calls "the Mama cryin' test." While choosing which songs to put on the album, McCreery's producers would email demo versions of many tunes, which McCreery would listen to with his family.
"There were a couple of times that Mama would cry, and I'd respond, 'Well it passed the Mama cryin' test, so it must be a good one," he said.
But fans shouldn't expect to hear McCreery's own songs on his disc. "Hopefully the next one I do, if I continue to stick around, I'll be able to get more of my own stuff on there," he said.
It's all still a big leap for a 17-year-old kid from Garner, N.C., who last year was bagging groceries and was a star player for his school's baseball team when he decided to audition for "Idol." He was understandably nervous that his brand of old-school country might not fit in with "Idol's" emphasis on finding a pop star. "I always knew I was going to do country if I made it and then I'd sing Frank Sinatra afterward. When I got done with my first song, the lady looked at me and she said, 'This is not "Nashville Star." You've got to be able to sing something different.' I said, 'I know, I'm country, but I can sing different stuff.' I just wanted to stay true to me and hope that worked out for me."
It did and he got his golden ticket to Hollywood, where he immediately became the one to beat on "Idol," especially after the early elimination of power belter Pia Toscano. McCreery is still at a loss to explain why he connected with viewers. "I just think Middle America could relate to me. I was just a high school baseball player, bagging groceries. I was just a normal kid who tried out for a show."
He remembers Gaga
His experience on "Idol" was anything but normal, from performing before millions of people each week to filming those Ford music videos. And then there was Gaga.
"Scotty McCreery. Lady Gaga. I couldn't think of a better fit," joked "Idol" mentor Jimmy Iovine the week that the flamboyant superstar took the finalists under her wing. McCreery seemed on the verge of blushing when Gaga suggested he make love to the microphone.
"She was definitely interesting," says McCreery in a diplomatic tone worthy of Henry Kissinger. "She's very unique and that's what makes her her. I think me and her are very different as far as style and it made for some good TV."
McCreery had a hard time following Gaga's advice, but listened up when the "Idol" judges spoke. "Pretty much everybody would tell me just stay true to yourself and you'll be all right," McCreery said. "Randy and Jennifer told me a couple of times to just stay in my lane. That was the phrase they used. I think I did that and I'm going to continue to do that and hope that it works out for me."
WHAT "Idols Live"
WHEN | WHERE 7 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, Nassau Coliseum
INFO $60; 800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com
Pondering their post-'Idol' journeys
BY DANIEL BUBBEO, email@example.com
Scotty McCreery is clearly following a country road to stardom. What routes might the rest of this year's finalists travel once the "Idols Live" tour ends? Let's master the possibilities:
HOMETOWN Rossville, Ga.
HOMETOWN Wheeling, Ill.
MOST LIKELY TO Sprawl on top of a lounge piano a la Michelle Pfeiffer in "The Fabulous Baker Boys." Her "House of the Rising Sun" was a sultry blend of blues and brass.
MOST LIKELY TO Plug into his inner AC/DC and front a heavy metal band. Who else could pull off a Judas Priest song on "Idol"?
HOMETOWN Compton, Calif.
MOST LIKELY TO Heed the call and go the gospel route. Can't you just see him teaming up with season 5's Mandisa?
HOMETOWN Wilmette, Ill.
MOST LIKELY TO Become a bass player in a jazz band. Or find work in a horror movie ("You Put a Spell on Me" managed to be sexy and scary at the same time).
HOMETOWN Kent, Wash.
MOST LIKELY TO Become a lounge lizard. His crooning sure had J.Lo swooning.
HOMETOWN Huntsville, Ala.
MOST LIKELY TO Pop up at the Oscars on the arm of a movie star -- namely, fiancee Nikki Reed of the "Twilight" movies. Remotely, he might even take home a little golden guy if his music for the upcoming indie "Loosies" clicks.
HOMETOWN Howard Beach
MOST LIKELY TO Head to Broadway. Her big, power-ballad-y voice seems ripe for "The Phantom of the Opera" or something else in the Andrew Lloyd Webber vein. She might want to take an acting class first.
MOST LIKELY TO Head to Vegas. Her wild-child style and fancy dance steps (remember her lightning "Umbrella" moves?) would fit right in on a Vegas stage.
HOMETOWN Hayward, Calif.
Some 'Idols' who took country by storm
BY DANIEL BUBBEO, firstname.lastname@example.org
'American Idol" is about finding the best new music talent in the country, but sometimes it's about finding the best new country music talent like these finalists from past seasons.
JOSH GRACIN After finishing fourth in season 2, the former Marine released a self-titled album in 2004 which went gold and produced the hit single "Nothin' to Lose." His third album, "Redemption," is slated for later this year.
CARRIE UNDERWOOD Call her cash and Carrie. "Idol's" top earner struck platinum -- seven times over -- with her debut disc "Some Hearts," and had follow-up smashes with "Carnival Ride" and "Play On." Earlier this year she branched into acting with a role in the feature film "Soul Surfer."
BUCKY COVINGTON Finishing eighth was enough for the season 5 country boy to succeed with his 2007 eponymous debut album that sold more than 400,000 copies. Release of his second disc, "I'm Alright," has been held up since his label, Lyric Street Records, folded in April 2010.
KELLIE PICKLER Season 5's North Carolina girl, whom Simon Cowell called a minx (Her reply: "I'm a mink?"), had a hit with her 2006 album, "Small Town Girl," which sold more than 800,000 copies, and opened for BFF Taylor Swift on her "Fearless" tour in 2009.
PHIL STACEY Like Covington, the season 6 finalist released his debut album on Lyric Street. Unlike Covington, Stacey's self-titled disc only had sales of about 40,000. He's since found religion and signed with Christian label Reunion Records.
DANNY GOKEY The fashionably bespectacled season 8 finalist had modest success with his 2010 album "My Best Day," which racked up sales of roughly 200,000 copies and also opened for Sugarland on their tour last year.