It was a given that Scotty McCreery was going to win American Idol‘s 10th season. Nigel Lythgoe was desperate for a winner who could sell records and make his show seem relevant again, despite the fact that, since the start of the Idol Machine, the music industry had shifted on crumbling bedrock and sales weren’t as guaranteed as the industry wished they still were. From the moment the judges first gushed over McCreery’s deeper-than-his-baby-face-would-indicate vocals, it was a foregone conclusion that teenage viewers from coast to coast would vote in blocks to keep him on the show. Once he made it to the point where America started voting, no other contestant—no matter how original—stood the slightest chance.
But what was not such a given was the idea that McCreery could become the country juggernaut Lythgoe and company expected. A quick listen to his voice and they had visions of Carrie Underwood-esque success dancing in their heads, and nothing was going to displace that, even when country radio stations around the country balked at having a teenage singer with no marketable songwriting skills being hoisted upon them by a show whose producers knew little to nothing about what makes authentic country music. The backlash was fierce from the moment he won, and it remains hard to imagine that McCreery will be able to win over those staunchest hard-liners who still don’t feel he deserves their attention.
Carrie Underwood found massive success in the world of country music, but she had to earn it beyond the confines of American Idol. She had to convince country fans that she was more than an Idol poser, more than a karaoke princess. She didn’t write the bulk of her first album, Some Hearts, but songs like “Before He Cheats” and “Jesus, Take the Wheel” had a county-music specificity which drew listeners in, allowing her to develop her image and build a fan-base in the world of country music, rather than as an Idol. Country listeners didn’t give a rip whether she’d won a televised sing-off—they wanted to know she cared about their world and was willing to be a part of it.
McCreery’s first album, in contrast, lacks those distinctive chunks of radio gold. The album features a dozen songs on which the 18 year old singer gets to put very few stamps of his own personality upon. Clear as Day makes it clear from the start that it is an album produced through industry group-think, with little emphasis on building McCreery up as an artist with something to say. Instead, what we’re given on each of these cookie-cutter tracks is exactly what you’d expect from an American Idol winner with little to no actual talent. These are songs calculated to make an impact on the cliché idea of what a country fan is, playing off stereotypes of Jesus loving, hard working, hard loving life in the heartland, but there’s no personality here.
McCreery sounds downright idiotic singing about how he’s got to loosen his tie and escape the “rat race” on “Walk in the Country”—“I’m so sick of all them TV shows, I need some dirt road under my feet”, he sings, as he crouches down and takes a giant dump on what brought him fame in the first place, in the hope that some country listeners might actually believe he believes a word of what he sings. Keith Urban may know how to write a great song—and the song itself is indeed catchy—but putting McCreery out front singing this is the height of absurdity. Who can take him seriously when he’s got no country music talent, but he’s singing about how he hates the very show which gave him a chance to even attempt to launch a mediocre country career?
It hurts him even more that his debut single – the banal “I Love You This Big” – sounds like it was written by a five-year-old who can’t express basic feelings beyond commonplace corn. “I love you all the time / Deeper than the oceans / Higher than the pines”, he sings, ripping off Randy Travis’s “Deeper Than The Holler” in the process of showcasing the cold hard truth that there’s no way McCreery’s name deserves to be spoken in the same sentence as that of Travis, one of country’s beloved “New Traditionalists”.
That’s what derails Clear as Day from the very start. McCreery’s got a No. 1 album here because there are thousands of American Idol fans who are going to go out and buy it based on his appearance on the show. But this is no Some Hearts because Carrie Underwood’s first album was put together by people who wanted to ensure she’d have a long-term career in the world of country music. This album seems destined to prove that you can engineer a No. 1 album without giving an ounce of thought toward what makes a successful performer in the world of country music. You can throw money at a project in the hope of receiving short term notice, but once a singer like McCreery steps off the Idol reservation, giving him material this weak leaves him to swim with the sharks while having no real talent to defend himself with.
Once a year goes by and McCreery’s not leering his way through their televisions weekly, teenage pop fans will move on to the next cool thing. McCreery will be left in Nashville holding the bag, destined to learn the hard way that you can’t buy long-term success. Success in today’s music world needs to be earned. Perhaps when this phase of his musical journey comes to a crashing halt, he’ll find his way out on the road with his guitar and attempt to actually write his own story. Or he can take the money he gets now and run, and hope no one remembers this mess 10 years from now. Regardless, what’s clear as day is that, unless you’re still crushing on this teen singer’s Idol image, there’s nothing about this album worth giving a second look.
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// Notes from the Road
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