Moments before it was revealed he had won Season 2 of The X Factor and a $5 million recording contract, Tate Stevens' nerves almost got the best of him.
"Leading up to that moment, I wanted to throw up because it was so intense," the country singer told reporters backstage after his win. "This whole thing has been stressful. I am really emotionally shocked."
The end was the culmination of a long, hard-fought battle for the married father of two, who defied the odds as one of the show's first, and biggest, country acts. "It's very important that The X Factor hadn't had a country artist," he said. "I think it's big for The X Factor and I think it's big for country music. I'm just happy to be the vessel that got it done."
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At 37, Stevens was also one of the oldest acts in the competition this season. "When we set out to do this show, we tried to take away as many rules as possible partly to prove the point that you can sell records and be popular above the age of 29," said creator and judge Simon Cowell, who compared Stevens to previous older talent show competitor-turned-artist Susan Boyle. "At my record label, we don't have a sign on the door that says, 'If you're over 30, you can't sign here.' You don't run a business that way and I think this proves the point that there is a market for older people."
If anything, Cowell believes Tate's age, and specifically his heartwarming story of a working father trying to follow his dream, might have helped him win America's vote. "As much as I like Carly [Rose Sonenclar], I'm looking at them both: One is 13. One is 37, married with kids, and you're going to give them a check for $5 million," Cowell said. "My heart said it had to go to him because he needs it more than she does."
Added Cowell: "When he sang that song at the end and you hear how good his voice is and his story, you could not not root for him. I think America got it right. I think it's a great end."
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Unfortunately, Stevens' win cost Cowell a pretty penny. After winning a bet with fellow judge L.A. Reid on who would mentor the winning singer last year, the two record executives bet double or nothing this season — and Reid came out the victor. "Unfortunately, I've got to pay him a huge amount of money now on a bet," Cowell said.
Stevens' win put some extra spending money in Reid's pocket, and also allowed the show's only other original judge to end his X Factor tenure on a high note. Reid, 56, announced last week that he would not be returning for Season 3 to focus on his day job as Chairman and CEO of Epic Records. "When I saw the footage of the season and then watched all the footage of the contestants and their families, it was just very, very emotional. But the beauty of The X Factor and the biggest joy I get from it is I know that we actually change some people's lives," Reid said. "I don't really need fame. I don't really need popularity. What I really need is that good, complete feeling of knowing that I helped changed someone's life and that's always been my mission."
Reid looked back at his time on the show fondly. "I had a great time doing X Factor," he said. "I only did it so I could have a little vacation and a little fun and now I got to get back to work."
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Although many were sad to see Reid leave the competition, Stevens hoped to work with Reid again on his upcoming album. "He's a great guy and I pray that I continue to work with him in the future," he said. "He is as good as they get."
When asked about his upcoming album, Stevens said he knew what direction he wanted to take. "It's going to be fun. I'm going to have some songs on there that are fun. I'm going to have some stuff on there like tug-at-your-heart country ballads, but I want to have fun," he said. "I'm a fun guy I love to have fun, so I want that to come through on my record."
When his record does hit stores, Cowell is confident that the same country fans that helped Stevens win the competition will continue to support him. "The country community really has embraced this guy," he said. "They think he's the real deal which is vital, so I think he's going to sell a lot of records."
No matter what the future holds for Stevens, he said he's just excited to take his shot. "My next dream is to make this album, my first album, and to be able to tour and live that life and do what I love doing," he said. "I love entertaining. I love performing for people and I'm finally getting the chance. I can't wait."
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