Jeff Christensen, AP
The Boot caught up with the 17-year-old in Nashville during CMA Music Fest to talk about the obligations that come with winning 'Idol' and why he thinks country music prevailed on the show. We also quizzed Garner's most famous boy next door about his adoring female fans and the country icons he adores himself, one of whom he met for the first time in a somewhat embarrassing situation.
What kind of pressure comes with having won 'American Idol'?
It's a lot of pressure. Just the title of 'American Idol' is something that people can look up to. I'm not Saint Scott, I'm not Mr. Perfect but I want to be that role model. I want to go down the same road that Carrie Underwood did -- kinda separate myself from 'Idol.' Because when you think of Carrie Underwood now, you don't think "'American Idol' Season Four winner," you just think "Carrie Underwood." I want to cross that bridge. There's a lot of pressure and work that goes into it, but I'm looking forward to it.
You're already well on your way across that bridge. Your first single, 'I Love You This Big,' has already broken a Billboard record!
That's very humbling for me. Just a week after 'Idol,' I heard about it in an interview and I was taken aback. I'm looking forward to what else I can do, if I can work my tail off to get there! If I can break another record, we'll see, but I've gotta just work, work work.
Where were you the first time you heard 'I Love You This Big' on the radio?
We went back to Garner the day after the finale, because I had to take a test for my English class. I got into town, and my dad let me drive -- my first time behind the wheel in four months. I'm a good driver; I just had my one-year anniversary of safe driving. [laughs] So, I started the car and just about a hundred yards later I heard the start of my song and was like, "What in the world?" I was going crazy. For my whole life, I've been on this side of the radio, so to be on the other side was pretty cool!
'Out of Summertime' was an online smash, even though it wasn't supposed to be! Despite the YouTube leak and subsequent removal of the song from all outlets, do you think it will be a single?
We didn't want it to leak, and we were upset at first but it was a cool thing to see the reviews we got back from it. People liked it! I'm kinda glad they got a sneak peek at what's going to be on the album. It sounded good, I'm happy with it.
What have you found to be the coolest thing about CMA Music Fest?
The fans! I was really anxious to see how they'd accept me and Lauren, being the 'Idol' kids and not growing up playing the honky-tonks. They've been really great to us. Everyone in Nashville, from the fans to the publishers and people at the label, they're all really accepting and welcoming us with open arms.
In addition to your Music Fest debut, you also performed on the Grand Ole Opry stage for the very first time. Tell me about your nerves going into that performance.
I was more nervous than any time I took the 'Idol' stage. Country music is what I love, and that's such an icon in the country music world; all the greats have played there. Midway through my song -- I hope there's a video, because you can see me start just cheesin', because I'm thinking, "Am I really doing this?" It was a really cool moment.
Photo Courtesy MCA Nashville
Josh is a great guy, and I can see why people say that. But we're two totally different artists. He's got the deep voice of a [imitating Josh] 40-year-old man, and I've got a 17-year-old kind of voice. [laughs] But he's a great guy, and it's great to have someone like that who I can talk to and look up to.
Songwriters must be knocking down your door with tunes for your debut album. What kinds of songs have you been hearing?
We had a meeting with some publishers the other day, and they were throwing songs and demos my way. I've been taking a look at all of them, so -- if you're reading this, guys -- keep 'em coming! We're enjoying it; we're starting the album process right now and just excited to see the finished product.
How familiar are you with the Nashville songwriting community? Did any of the names on those demos stand out to you?
Rhett Akins and the Peach Pickers (Rhett, Ben Hayslip and Dallas Davidson) are throwing some songs my way. It's so cool that those guys who've written such big hits are trying to get me to sing their songs ... I'm honored and flattered. And I'm loving all of them!
Your faith plays such an important part in your life. Will it play a part in the music you record?
One thing I love about Josh Turner is his faith, that's why I looked up to him so much. All the albums he's had have had at least one Christian song, like 'The Answer' on his last album and 'Long Black Train.' So I'm hoping to have that on my album -- that one Christian song.
Being a traditional country singer, did you initially think you would be an underdog on 'Idol'?
I don't think you'd call me a traditionalist. But you can say I have an old soul, because I grew up listening to Conway Twitty and Hank Williams. I'm not going to sing 'Hello Darlin'' on the CMA stage or anything. [laughs] I have that old flavor in my songs and old sound, but you've gotta keep it contemporary in today's world. I didn't feel like I was the underdog, I just felt like I was being me and I was anxious to see where that took me.
Jason Merritt, Getty Images
It's not that just country [fans] were watching the show; all of America was watching. It shows that country's gone more mainstream and is becoming the hot thing. I'm glad it turned out that way. And it didn't matter who won, because we both came out winners and both had the time of our lives.
The 'Idol' judges -- Randy Jackson, Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez -- are all veterans of other genres, and they had nothing but praise for your country style, all season long.
They believed in me and Lauren, from day one. When Lauren auditioned, Steven said, "I think we've found the one." To see people like Steven Tyler, who's a living legend, and Jennifer Lopez, who knows everything about the industry, and Randy Jackson, who's produced and played in the industry, say those nice things to us, it was amazing.
This year, the talent pool from the Top 40 down was incredible. I don't think the judges were too light on us. They were honest for everybody. Randy called it the "remix" season, and I was proud to be a part of it.
You met a lot of celebrities while filming 'Idol,' but who have you been the most starstruck by here in Nashville?
I was in the bathroom [at the CMT Music Awards], and I heard somebody singing. And I was like, "Who is this cat singing?" And it was Keith Urban! He said, "How are you doing, Scotty?" It's weird running into people you've listened to on the radio for so long and have looked up to.
Will you move to Nashville?
We're going to see how everything works out. If the album works out really well and they decide to keep me around, maybe I'll get an apartment here. But right now, North Carolina is still my home.
That's right, you do still have to finish high school! How do you think your young age might help you versus how it might hurt you in country music?
I'm not sure if it's going to help me or hurt me. Teen males have never really made it in country music, so it's going to be tough for me. I've talked to people who've laid out a game plan, but there's no formula for me. We can't go by what other guys are doing who are 40 years old in this industry. We have to go by something totally new and hope it works. I'm looking forward to seeing how the country world embraces a teen male country singer.
Speaking of teenagers, how do you handle all those screaming teenage girls who think you're so cute? You are quite popular with young ladies!
It was never like that before the show, I can tell you that! They weren't really running my way. It's just really cool for me that they're saying they love my music, but I don't know about cuteness. I've got big ears!