4th-of-July TV: Big crowds, big voices, big deal


On July 4, people suddenly remember the joys of musical television. From New York and Washington, D.C., we get music and then fireworks. Here's the story I sent to papers, focusing on Broadway/TV star Megan Hilty and "American Idol" winner Scotty McCreery.

By MIKE HUGHES

Each July 4, TV pumps up the volume. It
has big crowds, big orchestras, big voices.

Some singers are used to having a horde
of musicians.“It's the biggest luxury ever,” said Megan Hilty,
back for her second straight “Capitol Fourth” concert on PBS.
“You can get lost in the sound.”

And for some, this is new. Last year,
Scotty McCreery was pitching for his high school baseball team; on
Thursday, he'll sing to 300,000 people on the U.S, Capitol lawn.

There will be other singers, young
(Candice Glover, Jackie Evancho, Darren Criss, the “Motown” cast)
and not (Barry Manilow, Neil Diamond).

Some are accustomed to the spotlight;
McCreery is not. “In class, I never sang the solos,” he said.

Now he's part of a night that's big,
but changing. The Boston Pops has lost its national outlet, the
Philadelphia show has a new one (VH1), New York has two big stars –
Mariah Carey, Tim McGraw, Taylor Swift, Cher, Selena Gomez, Pitbull –
on CBS and Washington has a bunch on PBS. Let's meet two of the PBS
performers:

– People didn't expect Scotty
McCreery, the quiet country kid, to buck authority. But he did,
twice; naturally, baseball was involved.

McCreery was about 12 when his dad
taught him to throw a curve ball. “The league decided to ban
curves,” he said, “so I started throwing a slider. They weren't
too happy about that.”

A bigger surprise came a few years
later: He left the baseball team for a few weeks, to do the school
musical. “My coach didn't take it too well, but this was sort of
the Elvis Presley role (Conrad Birdie in 'Bye, Bye Birdie') and I've
always been a big Elvis fan.”

That was in Garner (population 27,000),
near Raleigh, N.C., where his pitching career was semi-promising. “I
can throw about 80” mph, he said. “That's pretty good, until
other guys are in the 90s.”

He also sang in the choral group. When
he got to “Idol,” people didn't want to include this deep country
baritone in their quartets. “That was probably the worst night of
my life,” McCreery, 19, said.

Better nights would follow; he was the
2011 “Idol” winner, while still a junior in high school. With a
family big on education – his mother and grandmother have been
teachers, his dad is a systems analyst – he wasn't tempted to skip
school. “But they said it was up to me,” McCreery said.

He spent his senior year going to
classes on Mondays through Wednesdays, then opening for Brad Paisley
in 15,000-seat arenas, repeating the pattern in his freshman year at
North Carolina State. He's also sung at big events – the World
Series, the Grand Ole Opry and now the Capitol fourth.

– By one view, Megan Hilty got it all
wrong.

Theater majors are supposed to struggle
and suffer, before catching a break. Hilty seemed to skip that: Fresh
from school, she took over the Broadway lead in “Wicked,” then
did the same role on tour and in a long Los Angeles run. Next came
Broadway's “9 to 5” and TV's “Smash.”

What about struggling? “I took two
years off before college,” she said. That's when she did theater in
Southern Oregon, mixed with “every kind of job I could find –
hosting, serving, retail ...”

Then came Carnegie Mellon University,
Broadway and TV. Her “Smash” character stumbled, then won a
fictional Tony. “I was thrilled,” said Hilty, 32. “I was
particularly happy with her acceptance speech.”

She'll be back on NBC this fall, in the
comedy “Sean Saves the World.” First is the July 4 concert, which
manages a sort of mass intimacy. “The sun hasn't gone down yet and
you see the faces.”

– “A Capitol Fourth,” 8 p.m.
Thursday, PBS, with many station rerunning it at 9:30. Tom Bergeron
introduces a big line-up plus fireworks..

– “Macy's 4th of July
Fireworks Spectacular,” 8 and 10 p.m. Thursday. Nick Cannon
introduces Mariah Carey, Tim McGraw and more and a fireworks show
with music produced by Usher

– “Philly 4th of July
Jam,” 8-11 p.m., VH1; Kevin Hart introduces John Mayer, Ne Yo, Jill
Scott, Demi Lovato, Grace Potter, J. Cole, the Roots and fireworks.