“The X Factor” U.S. Season 2 winner Tate Stevens, 37, is one step closer to releasing his first album. On January 15, 2013, Sony Music officially announced that country singer Stevens has signed to Syco Music/RCA Nashville. Syco Music us co-owned by “The X Factor” executive producer Simon Cowell and Sony Music. RCA Nashville is also a Sony Music label. As part of his “X Factor” prize, Stevens won $5 million and a record deal with Sony Music. Stevens will also get a Pepsi-sponsored music video that will premiere during the 2013 Grammy Awards, which CBS will televise in the U.S. on February 10. He has signed with Vector Management, a Nashville-based company whose other clients include Emmylou Harris, Dierks Bentley, Kings of Leon, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Patty Griffin and Trace Adkins.
Stevens winning on “The X Factor” wasn’t much of a surprise to people who watched the show on a regular basis. For five weeks during “The X Factor” U.S.’s second season, the show revealed the vote rankings of each of the contestants who performed in the live episodes. Stevens and pop singer Carly Rose Sonenclar were always ranked in the top two spots. Stevens was No. 1 in three of the five weeks in which the vote rankings were revealed in the weeks leading up to the season finale. (Sonenclar ultimately came in second place.) As previously reported, Stevens’ first album is expected to include his collaborations with several writers and producers. John Shanks and John Rich are reportedly among the collaborators. Stevens (a married father of two children) is also planning to move with his family from Missouri to Nashville.
In 2012, Epic Records chairman/CEO Antonio “L.A.” Reid mentored the Over 25s category (for solo singers ages 25 and over), so he was Stevens’ “X Factor” mentor. However, Reid is not expected to be involved in Stevens’ career, since Reid has been very open in admitting that country music is not his area of expertise. Reid quit “The X Factor” judging panel in December 2012 just days before the Season 2 finale because he said he wanted more time do focus on his job at Epic. Stevens was declared the second winner of “The X Factor” U.S. on December 20, 2012. The day after his “X Factor” victory, he did a conference-call interview with journalists. Here is what he said about the show and what people can expect from his first album, which should be released before the end of 2013.
Since the show has a lot of younger fans and you went back and forth with Carly Rose Sonenclar in the rankings did you feel you had a legitimate shot at winning?
A couple of weeks ago, yeah. I was at No. 1 for a couple of weeks on the top. Then went to two and she was at one, and then when I went back to one. That’s really kind of when I thought, “You know what? I have a shot at winning this.” But yeah, up until then, really it was anyone’s game.
And when L.A. Reid said that he didn’t want the over-25 contestants, did you feel that you were at a disadvantage from the start? How did you deal with that?
You know what? It was a little disheartening at first, but I think he realized that he had a really talented group of older [contestants] And so I don’t think I was at a disadvantage.
How did you choose Little Big Town as your duet partner? Was it selected for you or did you request them?
We had a bunch of artists, and we chose Little Big Town. Obviously, they just had a big hit with “Pontoon,” and we thought it was the right fit. Personally I love the song; I think it’s a lot of fun so that’s how it happened.
Do you think Carly’s duet with LeAnn Rimes had any bearing whatsoever on the final outcome or do you think the results still would have been what they are?
I don’t know. I’ve been asked that question a couple of times. I have no idea what happened with their duet but I believe she has her fan base, and I don’t think it would have swayed really any. I just can’t see that. If you’re a fan of someone I don’t think that you’re going to change because of one thing. I sure would hope not anyway.
What did you think was your best performance on the show?
My favorite performance honestly was with Little Big Town. That was a lot of fun. I had a lot of fun doing that but I think really my best performance probably was the week before when I did “Fall,” the Clay Walker song.
And what do you think was your most difficult or scariest performance?
The most difficult one was the Bon Jovi tune “Wanted Dead or Alive.” It’s such a like huge anthem song and everyone knows it, and if you screw something like that up then it’s not good. I think that was probably the scariest one just because of the song. Yeah, I would have to say that one.
What advice would you have for anybody auditioning for “The X Factor,” because your audition was so great?
Be yourself. Go out and do what you do and be yourself, and just you can’t do anything else. Don’t try to be anything else because you can’t do it well. Just do what you do and be yourself.
When you were standing in line for the audition did you ever think that you would be here now?
No, not at all. Not at all really. There were thousands of people and just I’m like, “Oh my God. I’m the only guy in a cowboy hat, and this is not probably going to be good for me.” But I can’t say anything besides I’m blessed and I’m honored that people liked it enough that I get to talk to you guys today.
Now that you have the $5 million contract and this new status as a celebrity, how you’re going to thwart the bad people coming who are going to start calling you and asking you for money?
I don’t know. I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I get there but I don’t know that will happen, honestly. I have no idea.
You got your name on the water tower in your Missouri hometown. Is there something that you’d like to see your name on as the future comes like a car or something like that?
I would love to be a member of the Grand Ole Opry. If I can accomplish that, then I’ve done something.
What’s the first thing that you’re going to buy with your “X Factor” prize money?
I haven’t really thought about it much. I’m sure I’ll make some dumb purchase in the near future, but I keep scaring my wife with buying a Harley, so we’ll see. We’ll see what happens.
And what’s the first thing you’re going to do now that you’re free from doing “The X Factor” every week and all that?
I’m flying home today, and we’re going to spend the holidays with my family. I’m going to lay in my bed that I haven’t been in, in a couple months with my wife and my kids and my dogs, and we’re not going anywhere. We’re just going to chill out and spend the holidays at home with each other, and then I fly to Nashville on the 2nd of January [in 2013] and we start recording my album.
L.A. Reid wasn’t too happy with the over-25 group, so how did that make you feel, especially now that you’re an “X Factor” winner?
It was like, “Wow!” It’s kind of weird that he would respond that way, but I think he realized what he had in his group, the older group. We had a really talented group of people. I think he changed his mind pretty quick, and I was happy to get to work with him honestly. He’s a great guy. He’s a great judge of great songs so it worked out well for me.
What do you think set you apart from the rest of the competition?
You know, I’m amazingly handsome. Nah, I’m just teasing. I don’t know. I’m a real person. I’m just a real guy and I don’t know. I really believe that country music fans showed up in a big way, and I believe that they’re the reason I get to talk to you guys today.
Right after the top 16 contestants were revealed, Simon had said that L.A. Reid and his Over 25 category had “No chance to win whatsoever.” Did you hear about that comment when Simon made it and what were your thoughts at the time? And if this is the first time you’re hearing about it, what’s your reaction?
I didn’t hear that comment, and this is the first time to hear it, but I think in the beginning they didn’t know. As the competition wore on, I think people started seeing that our olders group had a lot of talent in it.
And it was made very clear that L.A. didn’t know much about your country music genre. People have been saying his mentoring therefore couldn’t have played that much of a role in your winning. Do you think maybe the importance of mentoring on “The X Factor” has been exaggerated?
I don’t think that’s true at all. I think L.A. hadn’t had a lot of knowledge in the country world, but he did have a No. 1 hit in the country world with “Who Says You Can’t Go Home” with Bon Jovi and Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland. A lot of people don’t know that, but yeah that was his.
L.A. and I really kind of came to the understanding that we listen to each other, picked the best songs, and tried to figure it out from that perspective. He really let me have a lot of creative control as far as the song, and then he would pick. We come in, he’d have a group of songs, I’d have a group of songs, and we’d get the best one, and we’d work up the best one. I don’t think that the mentoring thing is not a big deal. I think it’s a very big deal.
When you do get to Nashville, do you have a wish list of writers that you would like to work with on your album?
I don't if it's a wish list, but I know there are some guys I want to get in the room with and see if we can pen some big hits. Luke Laird and the Kim Tribble, those kinds of guys. The list is huge. There are so many great writers in Nashville. When I get there, we'll see what happens. We'll see how things go and who fits. There are definitely some guys I've got to get in the room with and write.
Do you have any original songs of your own?
Yeah, I sure do. And hopefully, one will make the record, at least. I'll like to write half the record on my first album, anyway. I think it's better [that way]. We'll see what happens with the label thing and how things play out.
You’ve been talking about how you and L.A. got along so well as your mentor. Did you wish that you could have worked with the other judges (Britney Spears, Demi Lovato and Simon Cowell) at all? Do you think it would have changed the game for you in the season?
I don’t know. That’s hard to say honestly. I really don’t know. Yeah I have no idea.
Is there anyone that you would like to sing with on your first album?
I don’t know. Maybe not on my first one. It’ll take a long time to get out and show myself, and then later on start collaborating. There’s a huge list of people that I’d love to collaborate with.
Was there anything that you did learn about yourself over the season?
Yeah, definitely. There are a lot of things I learned about myself. I love performing. I love everything. I didn’t know how much I loved doing it on a big scale like this show is, and I realized that that’s what I want to do. I knew all along but it really came clear during this competition. It was really like, “Yeah, this is definitely what I need to do.This is definitely who I am and what I want to do.” And there are a lot of other ways I’ve kind of growing as a person too.
Do you feel any pressure to really perform as a recording artist in order to give back to or help build “The X Factor” brand that really put you on the map?
Definitely. And I’m glad to carry it. They’ve changed my life. They changed my family’s life, and this is a huge opportunity, and I want to do well anyway. Who wants to go out and not do anything? That’s just not why you do this. But yeah, I would love to carry the torch and take that “X Factor” brand and do well with it. That’s my goal.
Was there any sense of discomfort or maybe awkwardness kind of adapting to a pop mainstream show while still trying to be yourself through those performances?
Yeah, definitely because “X Factor,” honestly, it wasn’t geared towards country at all. It is a very pop and urban show. So yeah, there were some times that I was like, “Oh this is definitely …” I did a Bon Jovi song and [Simon Cowell] said, “It’s kind of like taking a goldfish for a walk you just can’t do it, and so there were a lot of times I thought that here I am taking a gold fish for a walk but it all came down to the end and so it was worth it.”
How do you get the confidence to get up on stage and perform in front of a whole bunch of people?
There are a whole lot of tricks that you can do. A lot of people say they’re not there. I don’t do that. I think you feed off the energy of the people that are watching that you’re performing for. Just get out and do it. If that’s what you love to do and that’s what you want to do you’ve got to try it. You might fail a few times. I’ve sure failed my share, but you’ve got to get out and do it.
Did you get a chance to meet One Direction while they were on “The X Factor”?
Yeah I sure did. They’re great guys and, in fact, my daughter is a huge Harry [Styles] fan. I have an 11-year-old daughter, and she got to meet him and get her picture taken with him and stuff. She was so excited.
What would you say is the most valuable lesson you learned from L.A. Reid?
The first week or two of the show he said, “Stars don’t have confidence issues.” And he said, “You need to get rid of all the confidence issues that you have. Be very confident in who you are and what you do and people will see that and it will shine.” And so I tried to do that and I’m still trying. I’m still worrying but I think I’ve gotten a lot better.
Is there a song that you didn’t get to perform on the show that you wish you had or that you had wanted to perform?
I don’t think so. There were a couple songs that I kind of wanted to see if they would work. I think everything played out kind of great at the end.
How did you bond with all the other contestants backstage in the competition setting?
We all got along. They were all great people. I really believe that we all got along. Everybody was cool and the younger ones, I guess talk to them like I talk to my kids sometimes and gave them a little advice if they were down or whatever … We all got along great and we had a lot of fun. And I like cooking so I cooked for everybody a lot.
What do you cook?
Anything. I don’t know if you noticed, I kind of like to eat.
Was there ever a point during the season where you really missed your family and it was kind of hard for you to stick with the show?
Oh, definitely. Definitely. We had been here like three weeks and I was like, “I don’t think this is. “And my wife she talked to me, and she’s like, “This is an opportunity that will never come again. You can do this just stick with it and we’ll get through it. It’s not like it’s going to be forever so just hang on and keep doing great and you’ll be fine.”