By Gerrick D. Kennedy
6:39 PM EST, December 20, 2012
Who will walk away the victor on “The X Factor” finale Thursday night? With the competition down to teen prodigy Carly Rose Sonenclar, underdog girl group Fifth Harmony (whose formation happened during the auditions) and country crooner Tate Stevens, it’s really anyone’s game.
For Stevens, a street crew worker from Belton, Mo., the goal is to win -- even if the judges have already assured him it’s unlikely he’s returning to his old day job.
His narrative has made him impossible not to root for. Though dreaming of music, Stevens put his career as a country singer on the back burner to do what any blue-collar man would do: provide for his family.
It was his wife who pushed him to revisit his dream. And at 37 he’s the oldest in the competition, but has spent the entire season a front-runner, neck-and-neck with Sonenclar for the No. 1 spot (he’s had the most votes for three of the five weeks the show has revealed the rankings).
Before recent rehearsals, Pop & Hiss caught up with Stevens to talk about the competition, working with mentor L.A. Reid -- who announced he was departing the show after this season – and being the “old guy” in the running.
Did you watch any of these shows before you auditioned, or did you come into it blindly?
Oh yeah, we watched them. Of course “American Idol,” because that’s been on for awhile. I watched “X Factor” last year -- I just never thought I would be here.
Being on one of these shows is certainly a much different experience than watching them. What surprised you the most?
Just the love of people who love country music. It is just amazing how they support you, and it’s very cool.
“X Factor” hasn’t had the same amount of country contestants as some of the other shows out there. Did that worry you?
When I started, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know how I would be accepted. Being the only country guy and a true country artist -- you know, wearing the hat and the whole thing -- I didn’t know how’d get accepted. But once I figured out that, hey, I’m in -- I want to win. That’s honest. I didn’t come here to lose, I didn’t come here to take second. I came here to win. It’s nuts. I actually have a better chance of winning this than I do getting struck by lightening.
Being on the Over 25 team led to you getting paired with L.A. Reid. It’s such an unlikely combination, but it's worked. How has it been working with him?
L.A. is as real as you get, even though he is the head of a major label. He’s a real guy, and that’s awesome for me because I’m a real guy. I’m just me, what you see is what you get. He’s the same way. But he knows music. It doesn’t matter if it’s country music or hip-hop or R&B, he knows music. A lot of people don’t know that he has a No. 1 country hit -- Bon Jovi and Jennifer Nettles' “You Can’t Go Home,” that was his baby. Most people don’t know that.
He knows about country music. But we are in different worlds for the most part. It’s a learning experience for me, and I think it is for him a little bit too because I’m turning him on to country in a different way. He’s seeing things from another side of music. He’s excited about it, and if you can get L.A. Reid excited about something then it must be pretty good.
Last season he inked deals with a number of his finalists. Is that something you two discussed as a possibility if you don’t win?
It’s not something we’ve talked about, but really here it is. It’s about winning, and he wants me to win and he’s very adamant about that. He’s pushing me. But you know what? If I were to get a deal with Epic I would be in great hands. [Note: The winner gets a $5-million deal with Sony Music. Epic, which is under Sony, is run by Reid].
Learning L.A. and being with him for the past couple of months I’ve seen that he works his [butt] off. He does that for his artists, and for somebody to do that for me, I’m going to work twice as hard for them. It’d be awesome.
Often music competitions are skewed toward a younger demographic. What has your success on “X Factor” proved about our support of older contestants launching careers on these shows?
I’ve never thought of it that way, but really I think it speaks of country music fans and lovers. I’m telling you they are the most loyal people and the most loyal music fans that you’re going to find. If they like you, they like you till the end. And that’s awesome for me. Being the adult in the competition, it’s hard to wrap my head around how many people watch the show. They are coming from everywhere. The love is amazing.