Tears, Cheers, and Musical Heroes: Scotty McCreery Enjoys Unforgettable Opry Induction

After Garth Brooks extended the Opry invitation five months ago, Randy Travis and Josh Turner usher the North Carolina hitmaker into country's exclusive circle: "It's been a heck of a ride"

<p>Chris Hollo/Grand Ole Opry</p> Scotty McCreery at the Grand Ole Opry

Chris Hollo/Grand Ole Opry

Scotty McCreery at the Grand Ole Opry

Ever since Scotty McCreery vaulted into the spotlight 13 years ago, he has put his answer on “repeat” whenever he’s been asked about his dreams. No. 1 on the list has always been membership in the Grand Ole Opry.

On Saturday night in Nashville, McCreery’s moment finally arrived, but calling it a dream come true would be selling it short.

“Y’all, this night is, is just … it’s unbelievable,” the 30-year-old artist said, struggling with both words and emotions before an adoring Opry House crowd.

The invitation to join the Opry, delivered back in December by musical hero Garth Brooks, seemed special enough. But then, on Saturday night, two more heroes, Randy Travis and Josh Turner, showed up to give McCreery an equally unforgettable induction.

Related: Watch Scotty McCreery Get Invited to Join the Grand Ole Opry by Garth Brooks: 'I Would Love To'

They arrived onstage just after McCreery finished a poignant performance of Travis’ classic “Three Wooden Crosses,” McCreery’s go-to song when he was a 15-year-old amateur just hoping to have any kind of country career at all. McCreery knew Travis, 64, would be in attendance Saturday — the two have since become friends — but the stage appearance was a complete surprise. Though the Hall of Famer and Opry member has been robbed of his voice since a 2013 stroke, his broad smile still spoke volumes to McCreery and the audience.

“It’s pretty unreal that Randy Travis even knows who the heck I am, to be honest,” McCreery said at a pre-show news conference, already in hero-worship mode.

<p>Chris Hollo/Grand Ole Opry</p> Opry host Bill Cody; George Couri (Founder, Triple 8 Management and Founding Partner, Triple Tigers Records), Josh Turner, Randy Travis, Bill Anderson, Scotty McCreery, Scott Stem (McCreery's manager, Triple 8 Management); Gina Keltner, Associate Producer, Talent, Grand Ole Opry; Dan Rogers, Sr Vice President/Executive Producer, Grand Ole Opry

Turner, 46, has probably played an even more pivotal role in McCreery’s career; two of Turner’s signature hits, “Your Man” and “Long Black Train,” were performed by McCreery in his journey to win American Idol in 2011. Just 17 years old at the time, McCreery wowed the show’s judges — and the tens of millions watching — with bass notes reminiscent of Turner’s (though McCreery long ago conceded that Turner has the lower range).

Onstage, Turner reminisced about when he first heard about McCreery: “I will never forget getting the call that ‘a young guy just sang your song on American Idol.’ I learned after the fact that he’d actually come to one of my shows a week or two before auditioning on the TV show, and he continued to sing my songs.”

Related: American Idol Winners: Who Won Each Season and Where Are They Now?

Turner obviously took the covers as a compliment. McCreery now considers him “a good buddy,” and as an Opry member, he was McCreery’s first choice to induct him. Embracing the honor, Turner set aside what was supposed to be a weekend off, and perhaps as a nod to McCreery, he performed both “Your Man” and “Long Black Train” during his own Opry set before the induction.

Turner also came prepared, delivering a heartfelt written speech that spoke to how the moment wasn’t just a career milestone for McCreery, but also an occasion that embodied the spirit of country music’s eternal “unbroken circle.” It’s a spirit that’s notably symbolized by the Opry’s center-stage circle, made up of floorboards passed down from the radio show's previous home, the venerable Ryman Auditorium.

Noting that Travis is his own lifelong hero, Turner said, “I stand here tonight proud of the fact that I bridged the gap between the generation of Randy Travis and Scotty McCreery. Only time will tell who will be inspired by Scotty to do great things in this business."

Turner then meditated on “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes,” George Jones' famous question-in-a-song that fretted about country’s future.

“Scotty is not only a fine singer and a songwriter,” Turner said, “but he’s a great man, husband, and now father. I’m proud of him.” Turner’s voice caught on those last words, and he paused to collect himself. “I’m proud to know him, and I’m proud that he’s filling the shoes of those that have gone before him. With artists like him, country music is in great shape.”

During his acceptance remarks, McCreery had his own struggles to speak when he considered the next generation — specifically, his 18-month-old son, Avery, who was in the audience with McCreery’s wife, Gabi, and other family members and friends.

“One day I’m gonna be able to look at Avery — he might not understand tonight — but one day I’ll tell him, ‘Hey, buddy, this was your daddy’s dream,’” McCreery said, trying to keep his tears at bay. “And it came true. So I’ll tell him to go chase his dreams, as well, because one day it could come true for you, buddy.”

Related: Who Is Scotty McCreery's Wife? All About Gabi Dugal McCreery

During his news conference, McCreery reflected on the influence that the Opry has had on his life and ambitions. Growing up in North Carolina, he said, his first awareness of the Opry came from the vividly recalled stories that his mother told him about her pilgrimage to the country mecca long before he was born. "Whispering" Bill Anderson was on the bill that night, and in another "circle" moment, the 86-year-old Opry member performed before McCreery on Saturday; the Hall of Famer expressed his excitement about the induction during his set.

McCreery's first Opry visit, on June 9, 2011, was to be introduced onstage, along with Idol runner-up Lauren Alaina, by fellow Idol winner and Opry member Carrie Underwood soon after his own victory.

“We didn’t sing that night,” McCreery said, “but I came back a few days later and got to sing … I’m sure my knees were just shaking ... but I had a blast. And I think I remember saying something like, ‘So we’re gonna play one of my songs,’ and it’s because I only had one song at that point! We played a couple covers after that.”

<p>Chris Hollo/Grand Ole Opry</p> Randy and Mary Travis, with Josh Turner and Scotty McCreery

Chris Hollo/Grand Ole Opry

Randy and Mary Travis, with Josh Turner and Scotty McCreery

An Opry favorite, McCreery continued making appearances over the next few years. At age 22, dropped by his first label and struggling to reboot his career, he showed up at the Opry in June 2016 with “Five More Minutes,” a song he’d co-written that was inspired by the loss of his beloved grandfathers.

“It was my very first standing ovation that I’d ever received at the Grand Ole Opry,” McCreery recounted to Saturday’s Opry crowd, “and I thought to myself that night that we might be on to something.”

The song definitely worked its magic, attracting a new label and eventually becoming the first of McCreery’s five No. 1 singles. He’s now chasing his sixth with current top 10 hit “Cab in a Solo” (which he also performed in his set, along with “Fall of Summer,” both off his upcoming album).

“It’s been a heck of a ride,” McCreery said, “but it all started — changed the path of my life — right here in this circle, singing this song.”

Related: Scotty McCreery Reflects on Career — from' Idol' Days to Label Struggles: 'Come Back Stronger' (Exclusive)

With that, McCreery topped off his induction night performing “Five More Minutes.” When he reached the song’s final verse — which describes a family at a grandfather's deathbed — he paused to proclaim, “Oh, both my granddaddies would have loved to have been here!” Then casting a glance upward, he said simply, “We did it.”

After that, who would have expected him to get through the next few lines? He could hardly choke out the lyrics as the audience cheered, wept, and sung out to the now-familiar tune.

<p>Chris Hollo/Grand Ole Opry</p> Scotty McCreery screws in his nameplate at the Opry

Chris Hollo/Grand Ole Opry

Scotty McCreery screws in his nameplate at the Opry

McCreery is destined to have many more opportunities to perform the hit again at the Opry. As a member, he’s entitled to its stage for the rest of his life, and at the news conference, he said that privilege was already giving him something to look forward to when he turns 70. In the meantime, though, he has another important task to tend to.

As he told the Opry audience, “I gotta go home and start writing a new bucket list.”

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