By MARTHA WAGGONER
GARNER, N.C. — Aversboro Coffee is the kind of place that opens its doors early if customers are waiting; if the chairs are down, folks are welcome to come in.
And it’s become a gathering spot for people wanting to talk about all things Scotty McCreery, a finalist on Fox’s “American Idol” who faces Lauren Alaina Suddeth of Rossville, Ga., Tuesday night in a last performance before a winner is crowned on Wednesday.
“”Every morning, it’s always about Scotty: `Do you think he’s going to win? What’s he going to sing?'” says Renee Brady, 28, a barista. The chatter might diverge onto another topic for a few minutes, she says, “but somehow, it always gets back to Scotty. It’s always about him.”
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One of the reasons is that members of First Baptist Church, where Scotty sings in the choir, frequent Aversboro Coffee, where essays about Christianity, written by children from a private, religious school, hang on the walls, along with a chalkboard sign urging people to pray for the troops.
But it’s also just pure local pride in a 17-year-old with a surprisingly deep voice who friends say hasn’t lost himself – not in the swirl of fame or during a singing lesson with Lady Gaga, clad in shoes with penis-shaped heels.
“I think everybody knows Scotty a lot better than we did a while ago,” said principal Drew Cook, explaining how many in Garner now claim some connection. “I think the same thing that everyone else sees: What you see on TV is the reality. This is one of the rare cases when the public persona and the person on stage is the person you know in the halls of Garner High School. He’s an honest, sincere person and a genuinely nice kid.”
You cannot get away from Scotty, even along the highways that border Garner, a town of about 28,000 located south of Raleigh. A hair salon sign “hearts” him, and school signs wish him luck.
Aversboro Coffee has the Scotty Special, a frozen coffee drink with chocolate, caramel and banana flavors. Lowe’s Foods, where Scotty worked as a bagger and cashier until “Idol” intervened, has Scotty cupcakes with tiny plastic guitars for decoration and a stack of 12-packs of Coca-Cola products that spell out “Vote for Scotty.” Even receipts from Lowe’s grocery stores in three states say “Vote for Scotty McCreery. Our Home Town American Idol!” – a suggestion from Lowe’s manager Terry Mascaro that the Hickory-based store embraced.
McCreery’s success has brought some relief to Garner, where the Conagra plant that produced Slim Jims closed Friday. An explosion at the plant, which once employed 750 people, killed four people in June 2009.
“It’s good news and bad news,” Mayor Ronnie Williams said. “We just lift Scotty up and praise Scotty. As I’ve told people all day, Garner is good for Scotty and Scotty is good for Garner. But it doesn’t do anything good knowing we’re coming up on the second anniversary of Conagra and couple with that, the people laid off.”
Scotty sang in the school chorus, as would be expected, but also pitched for the baseball team. He’s a better singer than pitcher, says one of his coaches, Kurtis Pake. “He’s a very good high school baseball player, but he’s shown to be world class with his vocal chords. He wasn’t quite world class with his right arm.”
Among those friends taking the most pride in Scotty’s success is Bud Moffett, a 62-year-old photographer and a former musician who said he has performed with singers including Gregg Allman, Delbert McClinton and Hank Williams Jr.
In fall 2009, Moffett was a judge at a talent show and said he was impressed even before Scotty won. He took Scotty under his wing and taught him a few more songs. As “Idol” approached, Scotty’s mom, Judy, asked Moffett to work with her son for the show.
He recommended Josh Turner’s song, “Your Man,” which has become Scotty’s signature, along with “Letters From Home” and “Long Black Train,” Moffett said. “I told him he couldn’t lose if he did `Your Man,'” said Moffett, who opened for Scotty at a homecoming concert last week in Garner. “And he blew the doors off the place.”
He chokes up talking about how he saw Scotty at the homecoming concert. He was about to leave without speaking to Scotty, who was surrounded by crew and reporters. “I heard this voice say, `Bud Moffett.’ I just stopped and turned. He parted all his buddies like it was the Red Sea and gave me a hug. We both got choked up. I told him it was the musical highlight of my life.”
Scotty’s character and his singing have turned 65-year-old Georgia Treece of Fuquay-Varina into an obsessed Scotty fan. “I love his value system,” said Treece, the former owner of the coffee shop. “He’s putting others first and using God as a standard.”
Those beliefs are not new to Scotty, who wears a prominent cross around his neck, says Ron Fowler, youth minister at First Baptist. Scotty has studied the Bible while competing and has used his beliefs to make wise decisions, even in song choice, he says.
“Scotty has been careful to sing things that don’t contradict his own convictions,” Fowler says.
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