Aug. 11--HYANNIS -- Two years ago, almost to the day, the 10 Season 10 "American Idol" finalists performed in Providence. That season's winner, the youngest ever, 17-year-old Scotty McCreery from Garner, N.C., had the honor of singing last. When the clean-cut country singer finally appeared, the crowd went wild, but it was too little too late, in my opinion.
Friday night we were redeemed, with an hour and a half of just Scotty (along with his five band members), who has blossomed into a handsome 19-year-old, his voice still rich with the deep tones that won him top "Idol" honors but with a stage presence and, yes, charisma that riveted the sold-out, multigenerational crowd at the Melody Tent. He looked as if he was having a whole lot more fun than he ever did on "Idol," and the crowd, a mix of men and women, young and old, responded in kind.
Striding down the "star aisle" in his dark T-shirt and blue jeans, belting out "Rock This Night," McCreery struck me as having transformed from a slightly geeky, Jimmy Dean lookalike with an odd grip on the microphone into a rock star, minus the accoutrements and attitude. He's filled out physically and has the confidence (not cockiness) to match. Truth be told, it came as a relief to see that not all the rough edges had been smoothed over: He's a tad bit awkward moving around the stage, which he does almost nonstop, and he still has the pigeon-toed dance moves in his pointy cowboy boots that I remember from "Idol."
McCreery sang most of the dozen songs from his debut studio album "Clear as Day," a mix of uptempo numbers and poignant ballads, released in October 2011 and certified platinum in the U.S. Several of them, such as "Water Tower Town, " an ode to small southern towns where "Friday night football is king," and "Walk in the Country," during which he switched up the lyrics to sing "Walk on down to Cape Cod with me," are so well suited to Scotty that it's hard to believe they were originally sung by other artists.
Ditto for "I Love You This Big," McCreery's "Idol" finale song and his first hit, reaching No. 15 on the country charts. Two years ago, despite his amazing voice, McCreery singing romantic ballads didn't always seem a good fit. Friday night, there was no such disconnect, as proved by the teens in cut-offs and cowboy boots and their mothers (and grandmothers) who hurried to the stage at the first notes of "Write My Number on Your Hand" (which McCreery did for many of them).
McCreery easily connected with the crowd, offering between-song anecdotes, and halfway through the show, he lapsed into some chatter (love that southern drawl) about what's on the horizon. "Don't y'all think it's about time for some new music? Well, in mid-October there'll be a new record."
With the yet-to-be-named album, he told me in an earlier phone interview, "You'll see my music grow with me. My music will mature." And sure enough, listening to him sing "Suntan," a catchy tune about "girls on the river, girls on the lake, girls on the beach, and girls by the bay," you have to wonder whether this will be the hit single he's been hoping for.
There's more rock creeping into McCreery's country repertoire, and it's fun. Friday night's standing ovation brought the performer back for an encore, Montgomery Gentry's "Gone Like a Freight Train," which got everyone out of their seats with arms in the air. But the young man, traveling with his family to Cape Cod (a first for him), was equally captivating sitting on a stool with his guitar, crooning the tug-at-your-heart ballad "Dirty Dishes."
Oh, and you know those country songs from the '50s, such as "Hey Good Lookin'" by Hank Williams and Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues"? McCreery's got those covered, too. "I grew up with Elvis Presley," he said. "I love that stuff!"
Twenty-five-year-old Marshfield singer/songwriter Kiley Evans, who said her first concert ever was Shawn Colvin at the Melody Tent, opened for McCreery and won over the audience with her McCreery-like poise, affability and powerful voice. Nashville-bound, Evans received the "Songwriter of the Year" Award from the Massachusetts Country Music Association and recently received the "Country Act of the Year" Award from the New England Music Awards. Definitely, someone to watch on her way up.
(c)2013 the Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, Mass.)
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