Around this time a year ago, Tate Stevens was one of thousands of people auditioning for “The X Factor” season 2 at one of the massive cattle-call auditions. He was a family man who had taken time off from following his his dream in order to take care of his wife and children, and it was with their convincing and support that he decided to audition.
Now, he has his family to thank for him becoming a star in the world of country music almost overnight (at least compared to how many in music rise up the charts these days). He was the winner of this past season as a member of L.A. Reid’s team, and even before the competition came to a close, he started to think of some ideas for a debut album. Thanks to this and some hard work in the months that followed, Tate’s self-titled debut album will be in stores on Tuesday. Buoyed by lead single “Power of a Love Song,” the 11-song set contains credits of some of the biggest names in country music; not only that, but it also has a traditional country sound with Tate’s voice front and center.
In promotion of the album’s release (and you can pre-order a copy here), we had a chance to chat with Tate a little earlier this week about a variety of topics. It was a candid, far-reaching conversation, and we can say without cynicism that he really did not feel like any different of a guy than he would have been had we talked to him the day of his first audition.
Cartermatt.com – So do you find this fun, talking to so many different people all of the time? Are you used to it?
Tate Stevens – Yeah, it’s awesome. I have fun with it.
You never quite know. I mean, your life has changed pretty dramatically; so are you really able to separate all of this from your family life?
It’s like I’m living a double life. They marry well. I don’t know if that makes sense, but I go home and I’m still the same old guy I always was. I still mow the grass, take out the trash, and do all of that stuff. I just have a really cool job.
One of the things I always like to ask people who were on singing shows, especially those who have had worked really hard at it in the past, is whether or not they appreciate it more. Do you think that you are more ready and prepared for this experience than you would have been ten years ago?
I think so. I really do. I think if it would have happened when I was 20, when I was out trying to do it before, I don’t know if I could have handled it. You might have read about me running naked down the street. I think that being a little older and having a lot of life behind me does help.
I want to give people who may not know a lot about your background a chance to get to know you a little bit better. Is there a moment that you can specifically point to where you said that this was what you wanted to do for a living?
It started when I was like four years old. My dad was a musician, and I started to play the drums when I was four because I wanted to be like him, singing and playing the drums. I just grew up singing, in music and around music.
I remember I was five years old, my dad was doing a show in Amarillo, Texas; my mom took us up there to sing up. He took me up there and I sang ‘Silver Wings’ by Merle Haggard. I don’t know if it was cute because I was five, but I remember the people watching and smiling, and at the moment I didn’t know what that was, but I loved it and I wanted more of it. I think that’s when it began, and I had this dream of wanting to entertain people.
… When I graduated [from high school], I went out on the road. I got the band and I went out on the road to make it work and chase the dream. For whatever reason it didn’t work. It was 1999 when I came off the road; my son was three, and it was time for me to do the right thing at that point in my life. It hadn’t worked, so I got a ‘real job,’ as they say, and kept playing music on the side, because it was my passion. Up until last year, when it was my wife and kids who were like ‘you need to try out for The X Factor,’ and I graciously said no. We watched the first season and we watched ‘American Idol’ and ‘The Voice,’ but that was something I would have never done because it’s not what I would do. I’m not a reality show guy, I’m as normal as could be, and my wife and kids signed me up without me knowing. It was kind of crazy and I told my wife I wasn’t going, because you know how those open auditions are: there’s like 20,000 people and I said ‘there’s no way I’m going to go stand in that.’ She said ‘if you go I’ll stand there with you,’ so she did, and December 20 we won.
[Having no expectations is] exactly what you do. I just went in and said ‘I’ll do what I do. If they like it, great. If they don’t, then I’ve wasted a few hours of my life.’ Honestly, that’s exactly what I thought.
Is there something that you learned during those early years out on the road that you think really helped to prepare you for the show?
Learning how to entertain people. When you’re out doing it six days a week for 4-5 hours a night, you just learn. You learn how to entertain folks; when you play to three people, you gotta make those three people think that there’s 300,000 people there. You learn your craft.
I think that experience was probably an advantage over some of the other contestants, so how did you try to implement that in your preparation? Were you able to focus on that performance during the show, especially when you’re having to navigate all the reality TV stuff with L.A. Reid like getting your song cleared and dealing with production?
Yeah, I think so. L.A. and I would pick the best song we could find that made it through clearance for whatever week it was, whether it was Diva Week or whatever it was. We would find the best songs for that, and once I hit the stage, and I just did what I did.
So what is your relationship like with L.A. and some of the other contestants now? Are you able to stay in touch?
I still talk with L.A. everyone once in a while. We text each other, call each other. I can call him a friend, which is awesome. There are some of the contestants I talk to fairly often, because you learn people. You learn about their family, you learn about their life. You form those relationships, and most of them were lasting.
What would you tell some people out there who never saw the show in order to convince them to pick up your album?
Man, if you like country music, I think I made a really fun country album. It’s a lot of fun to listen to; I may be biased because it’s mine, but I think there’s a lot of truly great songs on it. ‘Ordinary Angels’ is one of the best songs I’ve heard in a long time, and I was very fortunate that they let me cut it. But you have songs on there in ‘El Camino’ and ‘Sweet’ and ‘Can’t Get Nothin’ Done’ that are just really good tunes and they are a lot of fun.
Was there a certain nervousness going in to making this album with some of the people you worked with? I know you’d obviously worked with L.A. and some others on the show, but these were people within your genre, and some of them even potential heroes or influences of yours.
I wrote a song with Joe Diffie, who’s like my favorite singer. He has been since 1990. This is one of the guys I’ve looked up to forever, and he was nice enough to sit in a room to write with me. Then there’s David Lee Murphy, John Rich…
John Rich is great.
Yeah. We’re having dinner tomorrow night, in fact. He’s just a great guy, and for those kind of people to embrace me in that way was awesome. It was awesome recording this album and looking at the players who were playing on it, and thinking that they were out there playing for me. They were talking ‘we just finished Kenny Chesney’s album,’ it’s so cool, you know what I mean?
Are you even going to have time to watch some of these singing shows still, and can you really even watch them the same way now that you’ve been behind the scenes?
I want to still watch ‘The X Factor’ if I can. It’s definitely different being there; you know what’s going on [every] day. But I think they’re still good; I think that ‘Idol’ and ‘The Voice’ and all of them, they’re fun to watch.
Since L.A. and Britney Spears have left the show, I have to ask: is there anyone from the country world that you’d love to see be a judge?
I think Keith Urban’s doing a great job on ‘American Idol,’ so I think Brad Paisley would be cool, if they could get Brad to do it. Or Toby Keith. That’d be fun.
Thanks again to Tate for sitting down and being so generous with his time. If you want to check out some other “X Factor” highlights, you can do so over here.
Photo: Tate Stevens, Sony Nashville / Fox