BOSTON •Scotty McCreery is too nice to gloat about his first No. 1 song, but here is why he should.
In 2015, the country singer recorded Southern Belle, a breezy tune that his record label sent to radio as his new single. Actually, he would have preferred to release a song such as Five More Minutes, an emotional ballad he co-wrote after the death of his grandfather.
But Southern Belle was the kind of uptempo song that had proved very popular on country radio. Several months later, it stalled at No. 45 on the charts. McCreery, who had been with Universal Music Group Nashville since he won American Idol in 2011, was dropped.
Then, a few months later, he performed Five More Minutes at the Grand Ole Opry. He received a standing ovation.
Syndicated radio personality Bobby Bones caught wind of the song and called McCreery, saying: "Dude, we're going to make this a monster."
It became the first song to crack the Top 50 Mediabase radio chart without the support of a label.
Last year, McCreery signed on with Triple Tigers Records. Last month, Five More Minutes became the first No. 1 song of his career - just in time for his new album, Seasons Change.
"It feels good," said McCreery, when asked if it is redemption time after his former label dropped him.
However, the 24-year-old North Carolina native is too nice to gloat, so he makes a point of saying how much he appreciates everything Universal did for him.
After all, his debut album, Clear As Day, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in 2011, when he was fresh off Idol. It sold more than a million copies. He had two Top 10 singles with his sophomore album, See You Tonight, in 2013.
But Nashville is all about meaningful songs and he simply never had that breakout hit - until now. So for him, this victory is sweet, particularly as an artist who has long felt the need to prove he was not just "that TV guy people voted for".
"I feel like I was still kind of fighting that battle even a few years ago," he said. "I'd say this song, more than anything, gives credibility and validates what we've been doing."
He burst onto the Idol stage as a 16-year-old with a shockingly deep singing voice similar to country crooner Josh Turner's baritone. He stunned judges Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson at his first audition.
Beyonce appeared as a guest mentor and confided she was a huge fan. McCreery sailed to victory with the help of a devoted, all-ages fan base.
When he won, he had just finished his junior year of high school. He attended classes, played on the baseball team Monday through Wednesday and joined American country singer and songwriter Brad Paisley's tour on weekends.
After he graduated, between recording music and sharpening songwriting skills, he enrolled in North Carolina State University. He went for five semesters before the balance became too hectic.
Although reality singing shows can quickly propel teen singers to success, it is tough to figure out an artistic identity.
"I was listening to other people a bunch, which I always try to do, but you still need to have your voice when you're making your own record," McCreery said. "This one, I was really in control from start to finish," he added, referring to his latest album.
Besides Five More Minutes, he co-wrote all 11 songs on it. They include his next single, This Is It, a ballad about his girlfriend-turned-fiancee, and Seasons Change, the first song he wrote after he got dropped from Universal.
As soon as he wrote it, he knew it had to be the title track as it captures his last few years of ups and downs.
"I'm an artist, but I'm also a competitor. When you have somebody tell you he doesn't think you can win or he doesn't think you can do something - for some people, that might knock them down. And it did for me - for 24 hours, I was down," he said. "Then, for me, that just pumps me up."
And, really, he does not want to gloat at all? Because with a turn of events like that, he really should.
"When I'm alone in my room," he joked, "I might have other things to say."