It's been seven years since Scotty McCreery won the TV singing competition, but American Idol will always hold a special place in the country singer's heart -- especially because he's returning to the rebooted show's this season to act as mentor to a fresh batch of contestants. The Boot recently caught up with McCreery to chat about his thoughts on the new iteration of Idol, as well as to reflect on the ways in which the show has shaped his career.

"As a fan alone, I'm excited to watch the show," McCreery says. "It's always fun to see the new talent and see if you can pick out who the winner's going to be from the audition tapes."

While he's not a fan of the decision to cut out the auditions that didn't go so well, McCreery loves the idea of adding Luke Bryan into the mix as a judge this season: "He's one of the nicest guys in town, and he's got a lot to offer the contestants," McCreery explains. "He's been there and done that, and now he's selling out stadiums. I can imagine that the advice he would give would be very constructive."

As a mentor, McCreery will have the chance to pass along some advice of his own to the would-be Idols. As a small-town boy himself, McCreery knows first-hand how overwhelming Hollywood can be; add in the glitz and glam of being on live television, and the experience can be a lot to take in.

"[I'd tell them to] keep their feet on the ground," he says. "I hope they'll have fun and try new things. I was very stiff when I was on the show because I wasn't used to the lights and cameras and everything. Live TV can be pretty hectic!"

While the singer is grateful to Idol for shaping the early days of his career, he acknowledges that it's been an unconventional ride, not without its own challenges at country radio. Like his fellow Idol alum Lauren Alaina, McCreery felt the pressure to prove he was more than just a television star.

"I think [country radio] just wants you to prove you're there to stay and a legitimate country artist," he explains, "not just someone who can be on TV and sing songs. I think they were looking for a true artist, who can tell stories when they write songs and get those stories across in a live show.

"Seven years after winning Idol, we finally got our first No. 1," he continues with a laugh. "While of course I would have loved to have a bunch of hits right off the bat, I think having to work for it makes [success] all the more worthwhile."

The new season of American Idol premiered on Sunday night (March 11) with a two-hour special at 8PM ET on ABC.

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