Two years ago, country singer Scotty McCreery found out he lost his record deal with Mercury/Interscope while shooting an episode for "American Idol," the show he won in 2011. He had come back to mentor new contestants on the show, which was then on Fox, but his own career was at a precipice.
"I was trying to put on a happy face while I was filming," the 24-year-old singer with the baritone voice said. "That was a rough week." McCreery, who is from North Carolina, had started his career on a high at 18 by becoming the youngest male artist and first country artist to debut his first album on the Billboard 200. Although his albums sold well, McCreery leaned toward the more traditional side of the genre, when bro-country and party songs ruled the airwaves.
He managed to get some Top 10 radio hits with "See You Tonight" and "Feelin' It," but he also dealt with the bias that many talent-show competitors run up against in the music industry.
"I think we've had to work hard to establish ourselves away from 'American Idol,' to not just be the TV guy, but to be the country music artist that writes songs and tells stories and can sing songs," said McCreery, who adds that he's always been proud of his "Idol" beginning. He's even returned to the new season of "Idol," now on ABC, as a mentor.
But McCreery feared that after losing his record deal, he was losing the rights to the songs he had recorded while he was still signed. In particular, he wanted to get back a song called "Five More Minutes," which he wrote after losing his grandfather in 2015.
McCreery spent a year negotiating the purchase of those songs, still out touring as an independent artist and even releasing a memoir.
"In Nashville, in particular, if you get dealt a fatal blow like what we got dealt in 2016, you don't often get a second chance," McCreery said. "So I knew if we were going to bet my career on anything, the resurgence of my career, I am going to bet on 'Five More Minutes.'"
McCreery's rebound play worked. He released "Five More Minutes" last year while still unsigned. The song became an emotional part of his live shows, earning standing ovations. He signed to independent Nashville label Thirty Tigers Records, which pushed it to the top of Billboard's country airplay chart this month, just in time for "Seasons Change," coming out on Friday.
It's hard to imagine staging a career comeback at 24, but McCreery considers his new record an introduction of sorts.
"Feels like I am starting fresh," he said. "Feels like I am starting over almost. Like this is the beginning of my career, almost to a sense. I feel like at 24 I know who I am a lot better than back in the day and I know how to express that through my songs."