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. It's very cool," he says. "Anything that happens is life-changing for me from now on."
THE YOUNG DIVA:
Carly Rose Sonenclar, Mamaroneck, N.Y.
At 13, Sonenclar is "X Factor's" youngest finalist, but she's no showbiz novice. She was featured in an off-Broadway show at the age of 7 and later made it to Broadway in "Les Miserables" and in last year's short-lived musical "Wonderland." She also starred as Carrie in the national tour of "Little House on the Prairie: The Musical." She writes her own songs and performs at a New York jazz club.
And yes, she's in eighth grade.
She's been called a prodigy and a phenom. The New York Daily News recently gushed that Sonenclar "arguably sang 'My Heart Will Go On' better than Celine Dion" and that her version of "Over the Rainbow" would "make Judy Garland smile."
In last week's semifinals Sonenclar took on two music legends, belting out Elton John's "Your Song" and John Lennon's "Imagine." Judges have been complimentary all season long, but Simon Cowell told Sonenclar that the first time he saw her display emotion was in a taped segment introducing her last week.
Judge Demi Lovato told USA Today she'd like to see Sonenclar do something besides slow songs. "I don't know how much she wants to be here," Lovato added. "I don't see the drive I see in some of the other contestants' eyes."
She is considered Stevens' most serious threat and maybe even the front-runner. Throughout the live shows, Sonenclar and Stevens have traded the No. 1 spot (in viewer votes) between them.
THE GIRL GROUP:
This group wasn't supposed to have survived this long. Just last week, they called themselves underdogs (as did their mentor, Simon Cowell). Britney Spears was blunt: "I would be really surprised if you guys are here next week."
Plus, the three-dudes band Emblem3 usually ranked higher in viewer votes. Lest you forget, the superhot boy band One Direction was spawned from the U.K. version of "X Factor." But Fifth Harmony has some- thing in common with One Direction, too: In both cases, the show combined five solo artists into a group.
The young women of Fifth Harmony (that's their third band name, by the way) range in age from 15 to 19 and hail from Florida, Texas and California. Last week, they sang Ellie Goulding's "Anything Could Happen" and Shontelle's "Impossible" (that one partly in Spanish).
Will these teens drain votes from Carly Rose Sonenclar and put Tate Stevens on top? Maybe, maybe not. Anything could happen.
THE ROAD TO THE FINALS
Going to Hollywood
Part-time country singer Tate Stevens was goaded into auditioning for "The X Factor" by his wife, Ashlie, and their two kids, a process that started last spring at Kemper Arena and ended with raves from the judges at the Sprint Center. The show says tens of thousands of hopefuls tried out in five cities.
Later, 127 acts -- solo singers and groups -- were sent off to "boot camp" in Miami. Then 24 survivors were divided among the show's four judges for mentoring.
When live shows started in Hollywood Halloween night, 16 contenders remained. Since then, acts have been eliminated each week, both by viewer voting and the judges.
A recap of the live shows:
OCT. 31-NOV. 1
Tate sang: Craig Morgan's "Tough"
Quote him: "For me, you're a keeper." -- judge Simon Cowell
Judges' choice: Each sent two of their four acts straight into the Top 12 (with sing-off winners filling the other spots). L.A. Reid, who mentored the "Over 25" contestants, picked tattooed-all-over Vino Alan of Waynesville, Mo. (who also auditioned in KC), and Stevens.
Tate's viewer vote ranking:No. 1 with teen Carly Rose Sonenclar at No. 2
Tate sang: Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive"
Quote him: "It actually feels like you've arrived back in this competition." -- Cowell. (We're not sure where Simon thought Tate had gone.)
Tate's ranking:No. 1 with Sonenclar again at No. 2
Tate sang: Shania Twain's "From This Moment On"
Quote him: "I got to sing to her tonight, and it was kinda special." -- Stevens, referring to his wife, who was backstage
Tate's ranking:No. 2 behind Sonenclar
Tate sang: Lonestar's "I'm Already There"
Quote him: "I've been a fan of his forever. That would be kind of cool." -- Stevens telling reporters he'd love to sing a duet on the show's finale with ... Garth Brooks
Tate's ranking:No. 2 barely behind Sonenclar
Tate sang: The John Shanks/Keith Urban tune "Somebody Like You"
Quote him: "I'm a dancing machine. I don't know what the hell (Simon) saw. ... I'm breaking out the sprinkler next week. That's it. He's gettin' it." -- Stevens backstage
Tate's ranking: He returns to No. 1 swapping spots with Sonenclar.
Tate sang: Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer" and Garth Brooks' "If Tomorrow Never Comes"
Quote her: "Tate is not doing much evolving as an artist." -- judge Demi Lovato
Tate's ranking: ?
Not revealed. Stevens, Soncenclar, girl group Fifth Harmony make the finals.
Tate sang: Craig Morgan's "Bonfire" and Clay Walker's "Fall"
Quote him: "There is about as much chance of you going back to your old job (in Belton) as me flying to the moon tomorrow night." -- Cowell
OR YOU CAN CALL HIM ...
Tate Stevens (nickname: Tater) probably doesn't care what you call him as long as you vote for him. A few of the labels he has picked up since his national TV exposure:
--"Country dad" (MTV.com)
--"The family man from Belton, Mo." ("X Factor" co-host Khloe Kardashian)
--"My man" (as in "He's my man -- it's that Missouri thing," as ousted contestant Vino Alan, a former St. Louis resident, explained it to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
--"Sappy, sappy, sappy" (Houston Chronicle)
--"My dad away from dad" (booted contestant CeCe Frey, who also told The Hollywood Reporter she'd like to see Tate win)
--"Country boy" (snarkfood.com, which opined that "America does love a cowboy")
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