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Tate Stevens Interview: ‘X Factor’ Winner Transitioning From Hollywood to Nashville With Blinders On

Tate Stevens
Frazer Harrison, Getty Images

Tate Stevens says he’s had six or seven days off since Dec. 20, 2012, the day he won the second season of ‘X Factor‘ on Fox. That includes a break for Christmas. The 38-year-old is amongst the oldest reality singing competition winners ever, and that could be his advantage. However it’s unlikely he’s thought about that. 

When asked if he’s learned anything from watching ‘American Idol’ contestants Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina make a similar transition — including their respective success and struggles — Stevens gives a confident “No.”

“Honestly, I’m keeping my head down and working my butt off and trying to make this work,” the Belton, Mo. native told Tate of Country. “I don’t get caught up in much. I don’t read a lot of press about me or about any other people. I’m just gonna do what I do and at the end of the day if it works, great. If it doesn’t than we’ll try something else.”

There’s no doubting his work ethic. One senses after a conversation with the longtime road warrior-turned construction worker, husband and father that those six or seven days off weren’t his idea. He just may end up outworking the “competition” in Nashville, after all a bad day on stage is 10 times better than the best day shoveling horse manure, one of his earliest gigs.

The 11 songs on his self-titled debut album (available April 23) are a blue collar mix of rowdy and heartfelt rockers and ballads. It’s an unmistakably Nashville sound from a singer that stayed true to the format during his time on television. Perhaps more than any other country winner, Stevens knows the real work has just begun, and he’s approaching it with a very businesslike efficiency and sense of purpose.

When did you realize that you might win ‘X Factor?’

It was like the sixth week maybe. I was first in votes the first two weeks, second in votes the next two weeks and then that next week … I went back to No. 1 and that’s really when I thought “Holy cow! I can win.”

That was when you sang the Garth song and the Bon Jovi song. Did that change your approach?

Honestly, every week I would go out and do the best I could do and it wasn’t really a competitive thing. I mean it was, but for me it was like I just gotta keep doing what I’m doing, because it’s working. Whatever that is is working [laughs]. So that was the goal.

Unlike a lot of contestants on singing reality shows, you had a ton of live experience beforehand. Performing in front of television cameras is something completely different however, so did you have to make big changes?

Yeah, the first couple of shows I didn’t know to look at the cameras. I was looking at the people, entertaining them, the people I could see. And they actually, the producers and everyone were like “Hey man, you’re doing a great job of entertaining the folks that are in the room but those cameras are everybody at home. You have to connect with the people at home. When you see the little red light go on, that camera is staring at you. You might wanna look at it every once in awhile.”

That was odd. So then I think that week … I remember every time I saw a red light I was like looking at the camera [laughs]. I was chasing cameras. Then they were like “OK, half of what you did tonight, you’ll be fine.”

Did anyone try to steer you away from country music?

No. They were really good. I said “This is who I am.” I don’t mind doing some stuff out of the country genre at all, the Bon Jovi stuff was great. I’m a huge Bon Jovi fan. But I said I’m not going to stray too far away from who I am. And he (mentor L.A. Reid) said “Exactly, I don’t want you to.”

There are a number of new experiences that come with being a signed country artist. Like the video, photo shoot and wearing makeup and more interviews … of all these things what has taken the most adjustment?

Makeup. It still bugs me. It’s kind of weird when you’re like “Aw, I gotta get all this makeup off my face.” What? It’s like “Uh, I shouldn’t say that out loud.” [laughs]

Did you have to start working out more for photo shoots?

You know what man, I’m fat and I’ll probably always be fat [laughs]. I try to run every day and stay in as good as shape as I can, but I love biscuits and gravy.

When you sing ‘Ordinary Angels,’ is there someone you envision?

I just think about what the words say honestly. It has such a great message and you know I’ve done it myself. I’ve been that person behind somebody who’s trying to count change out and I didn’t know if they were gonna come out short or not, but just to help them out I had it in my pocket. And I went ahead and paid for it. And I didn’t have to.

When I sing that song I want people to watch the movie in their head without having to see anything.

Is the song ‘I Can’t Get Nothin’ Done’ one you had written prior to the show?

No I wrote that here in town … It was one of my first songwriting sessions in town.

It’s a true song. I have those honey-do lists like everybody does and I absolutely hate ‘em, and I don’t do anything on them. And my wife gets mad. And I try to make up lies and say it’s because of this or that and it just came together.

What song really knocked your wife’s socks off when she heard it for the first time?

‘Ordinary Angels’ really. It’s her favorite.

If it was an album of just one song, which song would you choose and why?

And I’m gonna say ‘Ordinary Angels,’ just because of the message. It’s such a great song, I’m just really fortunate that they (Phil Barton, Victoria Banks and Emily Shackelton) let me cut it.

Next: Watch Tate Stevens' 'Power of a Love Song' Video >>

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