So, Tate Stevens, does it really matter whether you win first place or second
place on "The X Factor" this week?
"Yes, it does, realistically," Stevens told The Star from L.A. the morning after learning he'd made the show's Top 3.
"Winning, you get the deal" -- a $5 million recording contract.
The second- and third-place finishers might get deals, but they don't get the deal.
Plus, only one person gets to be called the winner.
With this Fox reality series, a couple of assumptions are in play -- that the finale will come down to Stevens vs. teen diva Carly Rose Sonenclar and that Stevens will end up recording an album no matter what -- but then again, almost everyone assumed boy band Emblem3 would make the finals, too.
Instead, the girl group Fifth Harmony, five solo artists put together by judge Simon Cowell, pushed surfer dudes Emblem3 right out the door last week.
Stevens, the 37-year-old country singer who works on Belton's street crew, was as surprised as anyone when Fifth Harmony's name was called last Thursday.
"I was thinking, how do I rate right now? 'Cause I sure didn't think the boys were going home. I leaned over (to judge and mentor L.A. Reid) and I was like ... 'I'm scared now.'
"And he said, 'Me, too!'"
That was before he knew his own fate or that of Sonenclar. No one's sure how the absence of Emblem3, or the inclusion of Fifth Harmony, will affect viewer voting on Wednesday night. The top vote-getter -- the winner -- will be announced on Thursday's show.
As for Sonenclar, Stevens is often asked what it's like competing against someone just a little older than his own daughter.
"Yeah, that's kinda weird," he acknowledges. But "I think she's so talented that it doesn't even register most of the time that she's 13. She's beyond her years in vocal ability."
What can Tate fans look for on Wednesday's and Thursday's two-hour shows?
He expects to sing a duet with "a big artist" -- "I told 'em George Strait, Garth Brooks, Reba, Martina, anybody." And he has been told he'll perform a "$5 million song" and a "song of the season." A song of the "X Factor" season, that is, presumably one he has done previously.
Then again, maybe he'll be crooning a holly-jolly Christmas number, too.
Reid told him he could be singing three or four songs each night.
Stevens has not been home since live-show rehearsals started in October, but family and friends have visited him in L.A.
He has mentioned more than once on the show that his job in Belton might no longer be his.
His goal, of course, is "to not go back." The goal is to make a living singing.
During most of his time in L.A., Stevens has lived in the "contestants' mansion," but last week the semifinalists relocated to a hotel suite.
It's nice, he says, but it's not home.
He was video-chatting with his wife, Ashlie, the other day. She and their two kids and dogs were hanging out in the kitchen of their home in Raymore, and he asked her to walk her cellphone around the house just so he could see everything.
"It made me miss home worse," he says.
But he'll be back before long, certainly by Christmas.
"I'm so blessed to have the people voting for me and to still be here.
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