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Tate Stevens on Winning 'The X Factor' Season Two: 'It's Still Very Surreal'

Looks to Garth Brooks, George Strait as career models

Tate Stevens
Jeff Lipsky / FOX
December 21, 2012 4:40 PM ET

Last night country singer Tate Stevens was crowned the Season Two winner of The X Factor, walking away with a $5 million recording contract and a Pepsi-produced video that will premiere on the Grammys in February. The Belton, Missouri, native, who was a member of mentor L.A. Reid's Over 25s team, won voters over with his everyman appeal, devotion to his family and the fact that he was keeping alive the dream of becoming a superstar at age 37.

The day after his big win – working on just two hours of sleep in L.A. – Stevens talked to Rolling Stone one-on-one over the phone about what it was really like working with Reid, looking up to Garth Brooks and what it feels like to have his dream finally come true.

What's the first thing you and your wife are going to do now that the show's over?
[Laughs] Well, actually, I'll be Christmas shopping tomorrow. I'm flying home this afternoon to spend the holidays with my family. But my wife told me this morning that we still have to shop for the kids. And I was like, "Oh yeah, next week is Christmas." [Laughs] So, yeah, we do that tomorrow. Then I head to Nashville January 2nd to record my album.

Video: Predictable 'X Factor' Finale Crowns Tate Stevens Season Two Champ

When they announced that you were the winner, was it more a feeling of relief or a sense of accomplishment?
Both. Everyone on the show worked hard. Everyone put in the time and grinded it out every day. So it was relief, like, "Oh my gosh, it's over." It's hard to put into words right now. It's still very surreal. It's overwhelming. It's still very, yeah, like, this is so cool. I just remember looking around and thinking, "Oh my gosh. It's me. I did it." Dreams do come true.

Did it bother you that L.A. Reid didn't initially want the Over 25s group?
We didn't know that till it aired on TV. When it aired, I was like, "Wow, he don't like us." [Laughs] Y'know what I mean? It was like, "That's nice. This is gonna work out well for us." But he's L.A. Reid. He takes young kids and makes them mega-stars. Then he gets a bunch of old guys standin' in front of him. I'm sure he was like, "Damn it, what am I gonna do with these guys?" But I think he soon realized that we had a lot of talent in our group. And I think once he realized that, he was pretty good with it.

Have you guys talked about working together in the future?
Definitely. In fact, I spoke with him last night about that. Besides him being L.A. Reid the record exec and creator of a bunch of huge artists, he's a great guy. I respect him in every way. I told him, "If you want, I'd be more than happy to work for you, and I'd love for you to be a part of this, because I trust you." And he was like, "We'll see what happens."

How much time did you really spend with him?
I actually spent quite a bit of time with him. He was very hands-on throughout the process. He went through the songs. He did everything. He really liked to be involved. And I know I'm country and he's not, so it was a learning curve for both of us. I actually got him to listen to country music at home. So that's cool.

He's supposedly not returning next season. Do you think the show will suffer without him?
Yeah, I think so. He's L.A. Reid – I don't know how they're gonna replace him. But I'm sure they'll find someone good. I kinda mentioned, "You know, if this whole singing thing doesn't work out, I'll take your place." He just laughed.

Which judges' comments did you appreciate the most?
I appreciated all of them. They're all people in the business, and they've been there. I think my favorite comment came from Simon a few weeks ago when he said, "You're an honest and good man and you deserve a break." To me that was very, very cool. That felt good.

If you could follow in any artist's footsteps career-wise, who would it be?
In the country genre, there are a couple of artists – George Strait, Garth Brooks. I mean, Garth is probably one of the biggest country sellers. He's probably sold more albums than anyone else. He's a phenom. It's like Elvis, Michael Jackson and Garth Brooks . . . and One Direction now. [Laughs] But someone like Garth would be amazing. I believe Simon said I could be the next Garth Brooks or something like that. That's never gonna happen, but I think if I my career could match a third of that, I would be just fine.

Was there anything you wish you'd gotten to do but they wouldn't let you?
You know, I was really hoping to rap. [Long pause, then laughs] No, I don't think so. I was pretty happy with the way everything went.

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Song Stories

“Don't Dream It's Over”

Crowded House | 1986

Early in the sessions for Crowded House's debut album, the band and producer Mitchell Froom were still feeling each other out, and at one point Froom substituted session musicians for the band's Paul Hester and Nick Seymour. "At the time it was a quite threatening thing," Neil Finn told Rolling Stone. "The next day we recorded 'Don't Dream It's Over,' and it had a particularly sad groove to it — I think because Paul and Nick had faced their own mortality." As for the song itself, "It was just about on the one hand feeling kind of lost, and on the other hand sort of urging myself on — don't dream it's over," Finn explained.

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