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Scotty McCreery

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The night before McCreery started his first day at North Carolina State, he spent the evening putting golf balls in the new off-campus apartment he shares with three friends from high school. “Me and the boys play golf a lot, so we took our putters out and cut a hole in a piece of paper to use as our hole in the carpet,” says McCreery, 19. “The next morning, I reach for my class schedule and realize that was the paper we cut the hole in! I didn’t know where any of my classes were!”

Every freshman is nervous on their first day-especially when your schedule ends up in shreds-but when you’re an American Idol winner balancing celebrity and the desire to just be another kid on campus, you might be a little more freaked out than most. “The first week or two, I was really conscious about staying low-key,” he says. “I had my hat pulled down so far, it was below my eyes. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself.”

McCreery now feels comfortable enough to leave the hat at home, but as much as he tries to blend in, most of his classmates don’t spend their weekends touring with Brad Paisley or promoting a new CD (Christmas with Scotty McCreery). “People ask me, ‘How do you do it?’ I say, ‘I’m like Hannah Montana!’ I have my school life, and then I go on the road. I want to keep a balance of the two.”

Keeping school in the equation was especially important to McCreery, despite some in the industry telling him he should focus only on music. “I had great-grandparents that didn’t have the chance to even graduate from high school because they were working on the farm, so I value my education,” he says. “I told Garth Brooks that I was going to college and that not everybody was too excited. He was like, ‘You better go to college and get your degree!’ This is coming from somebody that got his degree. I mean he’s doing pretty good for himself, so I think I’ll take his advice!”