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Tate Stevens, ‘X Factor’: Country Hopeful Croons His Way to the Top 3 (Exclusive Interview)

FOX

If you’ve followed 37-year-old Tate Stevens‘ journey on this season’s X Factor,” it’s easy to see why famous musicians have taken a liking to the humble singer, who can belt out country hits like the best of ‘em.

Randy Houser, Darius Rucker, Clay Walker, Big & Rich and some others [have all reached out to me],” Tate tells The Boot. “They all say they are really proud of what I’m doing and that I’m representing country music really well. They’re excited for me.”

‘Excited’ is likely an understatement when describing how the Missouri native feels going into Part 1 of the “X Factor” season finale tonight (Dec. 19), where he’ll battle 13-year-old singer Carly Rose Sonenclar and girl group Fifth Harmony. Over the last few weeks, Tate has found himself in either the No. 1 or No. 2 spot on the fan-voted show, in a tight run with Carly Rose.

Now, just one day before a winner is crowned, Tate can’t believe where he stands, not to mention all of the incredible support he’s gotten. “It’s awesome!” he says of the experience. “It’s surreal that people like me enough for them to put me here.”

Tonight, Tate will perform with Little Big Town after his first duet partner request, Garth Brooks, reportedly wasn’t an option. “It’s going to be a lot of fun,” he shares of singing with the CMA-winning quartet. “The performance is very me. It’s who I am, the kind of music I love and represents me the best.” (LeAnn Rimes will also appear on tonight’s show, performing with Carly Rose.)

Understandably, not far from Tate’s mind tonight will be those still reeling from the tragic losses in Newtown, Conn., after a gunman killed 20 school children and six staff members last Friday, Dec. 14. The singer, a father to a son and daughter with his high school sweetheart-turned-wife Ashlie explains, “I don’t know anyone or have any association with folks over there [in Newtown], however, being a parent, it really makes you think, even with the distraction of the show. I definitely called my kids and talked to them. I feel terrible for the parents who lost their children and will never get to hold them again. It’s very sad.”

The situation has made Tate even more grateful that his dream of becoming a well-known singer is close to coming true. “This is an opportunity that comes only once in a lifetime,” he reflects.

An opportunity that the “X Factor” contestant never really saw coming, as he admits he once thought country singers were the underdogs on reality TV competition shows. “Not at all,” he shares, when we ask if he went into the show thinking he had as fair of a shot as any pop singer. “Now I do. It’s an even playing field now. If you are good and you do what you do well, then you have as good a shot as any.”

Still, Tate says adjusting to his mentor, L.A. Reid — an expert in the hip hop and pop worlds — wasn’t always easy. “At times, it has been a challenge,” he admits. “But L.A. has done a great job, and now we are in together. I think he learned a thing or two from me, and obviously I have [learned], as well, from the other side of the table … He buys in to country music now.”

Winning over the other judges hasn’t been a struggle for Tate, as he says that Simon Cowell is nicer than he seems and adds that Britney Spears is “really down to earth and nice. She’s very much a normal person.”

If Tate does take home the top prize, a $5 million contract, on Thursday night, you can bet he has a few country musicians with whom he’d love to work on his debut album. “There are so many people, it would be hard to list,” he says, adding that his biggest inspirations are “Garth Brooks, George Strait, George Jones, Alabama and so many more.”

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