Teens soaring -- Scotty and Auli'i found dizzyig route to the top


Each year, on the eve of Memorial Day, PBS delivers a terrific blend of music and emotion. Sunday's concert happens to include two people who found teen stardom -- Scotty McCreery an d Auli'i Cravalho; here's the story I sent to papers.

By Mike Hughes

In the swirl of
show-business, this keeps happening:

A talented teen from
nowhere (or nearby) is suddenly everywhere. It's dizzying and fun and
scary.

Scotty McCreery, who
sings Sunday in PBS' Memorial Day eve concert, knows that. He'd done
other intense things – pitching in baseball, winning “American
Idol” at 17, singing at the Opry -- before the first time he went
to Washington and met the president. “It's a different kind of
scary,” he said.

Now Auli'i Cravalho,
16, arrives. She'll open the concert with the National Anthem – her
first time performing it in public. “I've been practicing it every
day,” she said. “I tend to worry.”

Yes, it will be her
first time in Washington; until the “Moana” movie made her a
star, she'd rarely left Hawaii. Now she'll share a stage with Renee
Fleming, Vanessa Williams, McCreery and more. “I've been reading up
on all the people who will be there,” she said.

She has to, because
she hasn't seen them on television; she grew up without a set. “My
parents thought it was more important for me to be reading than
watching TV.”

So she did; early
on, she became an “Aesop's Fables” fan. She also started early
inn music and theater programs. “I suppose I was a slightly
dramatic person,” she said.

And then her world
spun more dramatically. A talent scout saw her at a competition and
advised her to audition for “Moana”; she was reluctant, then did
and was chosen to voice and sing the title role.

During recording
sessions, Cravalho never met the star (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson)
she did duets with. But she often met – via Skype – Lin-Manuel
Miranda, who co-wrote the songs.

Here was a
long-distance merger. A teen-ager who had never done a school musical
(“I was the understudy to the understudy”) was talking to the
most important person on Broadway. At times, he was already dressed
in his “Hamilton” coat, ready to go onstage.

“I've always been
a fan of 'In the Heights'” (Miranda's previous musical), because
I'm Puerto Rican,” Cravalho said.

Well, she's many
things, in the Hawaiian tradition, but Puerto Rican is one of them
... and is something she has in common with McCreery. Both grew up in
towns of 27,000, where there were plenty of chances to sing. Both had
career military men in the family, making Memorial Day feel
important. And both have roots in Puerto Rico.

That's where Bill
McCreery was stationed when he met Paquita Rivera. They eventually
moved to North Carolina; Scotty McCreery talks warmly about both
grandparents.

These days, he's
often focusing on golf, which was his granddad's favorite sport. “I
like baseball, but you just can't get 18 guys together that often.”

His grandparents
were married 57 years, before Bill's death last summer; Scotty then
wrote “Five More Minutes” and debuted it at the Grand Ole Opry.
“That was two weeks after my Grandpa Bill died. It was pretty raw
emotions.”

At 23, his life has
settled down a bit. He's had a steady girlfriend for six years -- “I
met her in kindergarten and we've known each other forever” -- and
she now has a nursing degree.

And at 16, Cravalho
is nowhere near settling down. She's learning how to sleep in
airplanes, she said; she'll live in New York for “Rise,” a
mid-season NBC show set in a high school theater program. If she has
an album some day, it might surprise people. “I love Nat King Cole;
that era was so pure.”

And was any of this
what she'd envisioned as a kid? “I still am a kid,” she
corrected.

-- “National
Memorial Day Concert,” 8-9:30 p.m. Sunday, PBS; reruns at 10 (check
local listings)