American Idols Talk Recording, Touring

Lauren Alaina and Scotty McCreery

The 2011 American Idols Tour made its Nashville stop on Saturday (7/30), thanks to Music City resident and Top 10 finalist Paul McDonald. Show winner Scotty McCreery and runner up Lauren Alaina are, of course, also pursuing musical careers through Nashville. The trio of performers all sat down with local press to share some thoughts on life, post-Idol.

Life for all three, particularly teenagers McCreery and Alaina, has changed forever. One year ago when they first auditioned, the latter two were average high schoolers on summer break. Now they’re playing to audiences of thousands on a massive arena tour and hearing their songs being spun on country radio. While they may be young, the differences between the Idol show process and the difficult task of becoming a major label star are not lost on them.

“For the album, I look for songs that I can relate to so that I can feel it and sing my heart out,” says McCreery, whose upcoming Mercury release is due sometime this fall. “The audience that listens will feel that and appreciate it. For the [American Idol] show, you can pick songs that you can sing but if the audience doesn’t like it you’re done for and you’re going home next week.”

“I feel like my album has a lot of different types of songs,” adds Alaina, who is recording with Byron Gallimore. “Sweet ballads with good stories, and some really fast songs people can dance to. We still have to listen to all the songs and decide which ones will make the album.”

Paul McDonald

Paul McDonald, on the other hand, is nearly 10 years older than McCreery and Alaina and had already been making a go at a musical career prior to Idol. But the show has definitely afforded him considerable visibility and a big springboard for whatever his next step will be.

“Last year I was touring with my band across the country,” he recalls. “Doing all my original music, in a 15 passenger band, trying to make it the old-fashioned way. It’s a different scene these days. I was loading my gear in the venues, opening for bigger acts, and now we’re playing arenas.”

The 2011 Idol tour has been on the road for long enough now that even the less seasoned contestants have started to get a good feel for the life of a touring artist. Prior to the Nashville stop, the tour hit McCreery’s homeland in Raleigh, NC.

“Raleigh was incredible! They were seated all the way to the rafters,” he says. “All the Idols had a great time there, saying how energetic and crazy it was. It was also nice to get back and see friends and family in the crowd.”

“I’m always looking in the crowd and judging if they’re on their feet or I’m gonna have to work,” he continues. “Mainly I’m just thinking it’s great to be here. It’s amazing I get paid to do it.”

Nashville, being an industry town and the home of their label, is a slightly different animal. The artists all expressed a need to perform well in front of their industry peers, but have now gained enough stage and screen experience to not let it rattle them.

“There’s definitely a lot of people I’m looking to impress,” says McCreery, “but I don’t look at it as pressure. I just look at it as incentive to have more fun. That’s when you put on a good show, when you have fun and people see that.”

“When I get on a stage it’s like my body flips a switch and I’m in stage mode,” explains Alaina. “I’m more comfortable on the stage than anywhere. I’m a little nervous about tonight because this is where my label is and all the really important people that are part of my career are here. My whole family is also here. I perform better in front of people I don’t know than people I do.”

During the Idol show, the contestants had weekly mentoring sessions with Interscope head Jimmy Iovine and an assortment of popular artists and producers. The prevailing sentiment that they’ve taken away is that it’s important to know who you are artistically, and to hold fast to that as creatively as possible.

“Just be yourself,” says McDonald. “I wanted to sing Ray LaMontagne and Jimmy [Iovine] said ‘No one knows that, you should sing James Blunt ‘You’re Beautiful.’’ I said, ‘I don’t know man, do you want me to go shirtless too?’ Stick to your guns, no matter what. You can get intimidated really easily by the mentors. I’ve been doing it for so long, I kinda knew who I was. [Producer] Don Was said ‘Dude you’re record’s a whole lot cooler than what you’re doing on the show. Why don’t you do this stuff? I was like, ‘I’m trying!’”

“Stay in your lane and be you,” concurs McCreery. “Don’t change it up. I could have been country one week, and been Frank Sinatra another, but I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to sing country and stay true to my roots and what I grew up with.”

McCreery’s determination to stay true to himself already seems to be paying off. His debut single “I Love You This Big” has hit Top 20 on all charts, and the video is on the way. The jury might still be out on how successful he will be, but the 17-year-old has a pragmatic outlook on the crazy jigsaw puzzle of building an artistic career.

“I have plenty more to learn,” notes McCreery. “I’m young and it’s early to get in this business. You have to pick the songs, relate to the audience, and do a lot behind the scenes to make the process smooth. We had a team meeting two days ago to lay down the groundwork. We set goals up and said ‘This is what we want to do, and this is how we’ll get there.’ Hopefully it works out.”

Hey man, we’re rooting for you.

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