Applying their lip gloss for the umpteenth time, hordes of teenage girls hungrily awaited the arrival of their idol and, for many, the man of their dreams.
Shrill cries of “OMG” and “Scotty, will you marry me?” echoed through the crowd Saturday outside the newly renovated Lowes Foods in Clemmons as loyal Scotty McCreery fans braved the rain to be one of the lucky 300 to get an autograph.
“I always say I have the best fans in the world,” McCreery, a North Carolina native and the winner of Season 10 of American Idol, said. “The fans and music come first. The awards and the charts are all secondary.”
As the clock struck 4 o’clock, groups of 25 were admitted into the store, clutching their “Christmas with Scotty McCreery” CDs and craning to get a glimpse of the 20-year-old country music star nestled in a small enclosure by the seafood and meat deli.
Shaking in anticipation, many teens snuck closer, trying to snap the perfect selfie with McCreery in the background as they waited for their 15 seconds of fame.
Stephanie Freedle and her two daughters, Kendyl and Katylin, were the first in line after arriving at 4:30 a.m.
Kendyl, 13, the self-declared No. 1 fan of McCreery and a cancer survivor, had watched Season 10 while undergoing cancer treatment.
“His music was healing to her,” Freedle said. “We just love him. We’re so excited to see him.”
The excitement was palpable as fans pressed forward and, for some, it was almost too much.
Tears were shed and one girl, Cagle James, promptly collapsed in the pimento cheese after getting his autograph.
“I don't have words,” Cagle, 17, said between sobs. “I sing and play the guitar, and seeing a North Carolinian winning American Idol made me realize I can do it, too. He’s such an inspiration to me.”
Another fan even went through the line twice after mustering the courage to ask McCreery to prom.
“He's just awesome, his voice is lovely and he's lovely,” Hannah Sjolund, 17, said. “Like, is this actually happening?”
Although teenage girls made up the majority of the crowd, they were not the only ones excited to see McCreery, whose debut studio album “Clear as Day” was certified platinum in the United States.
Patsy Ernst, 73, counted herself among the throng of dedicated admirers.
“I watched him during American Idol and pulled for him more than anyone because he's just such a wonderful singer and so down to earth,” Ernst said. “I really admire that he’s continued in his education, too.”
Although McCreery continues to pursue his music career and is set to release another album in the summer of 2014, he is also studying communications at N.C. State University.
But a life of celebrity filled with travel and tours has been a big adjustment for McCreery.
“I loved growing up in North Carolina with my friends and family, so being on the road is something to get used to because you’re out there sometimes weeks at a time,” said McCreery, who in two years has become one of country music’s hottest new stars. “But it’s fun, you know. I got a second family out there with my band.”
McCreery said that winning American Idol — or “music industry boot camp,” as he calls it — in 2011 was life-changing. The moment he heard his name announced as the winner was indescribable.
“I probably couldn’t put it down to one word,” he said. “It was a combination of reflecting on the past few months and looking into the future.”
Since leaving American Idol, McCreery has become the first country singer to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with his first studio album. He is also the youngest male to open at the top of the chart with his debut release and was named Best Breakthrough Artist at the Dec. 10 American Music Awards.
But through it all, McCreery maintains that it’s important to stay true to his North Carolina roots.
Born in Raleigh and raised in Garner, he held his first job at Lowes Foods as a cashier and bagger as a sophomore in high school while auditioning for American Idol.
He has done multiple special events with Lowes Foods since winning the competition, Heather George, the senior vice president of brand strategy for the grocery store, said. This appearance was to help celebrate the recent renovations.
“We really appreciate the relationship we have with him,” she said. “He’s so humble and just a great guy.”
After all the autographs had been signed, the fans loitered in the aisles, hoping that McCreery would join the 10 West Forsyth High School chorus students in performing a Christmas carol as rumored.
And McCreery didn’t disappoint, singing “Let it Snow” alongside the students.
“It’s such a cool experience to sing with him because his music really speaks to me,” said Tyler McBride, a senior in the West Forsyth chorus. “He is just so inspirational.”