The Kansas City Star Magazine

Winning 'The X Factor' hasn’t changed Tate Stevens

Updated: 2013-12-18T05:19:48Z

Photos by JOE LEDFORD, Text by TIM ENGLE

The Kansas City Star

For anyone wondering if Tate Stevens would “go Nashville,” we now have our answer.

Yes, he did. But not for good.

This time last year, the “teddy bear” in a cowboy hat became the unlikely Season 2 winner of Fox’s “The X Factor,” an “American Idol” clone helmed by former “Idol” judge Simon Cowell. Stevens was the only finalist who sang country and was old enough to be the daddy of most of his rivals.

His story was made for TV. Here was an average guy who toiled on the street crew of little Belton, Mo. Had been performing for years but yearned for the big time. Had a wife and two kids. About as un-Hollywood as you could get, although that’s just where “X Factor” took him.

Then he won.

Right away, Stevens was clear about his plans. He’d take what the show termed a $5 million prize — a recording contract with some cash — and head to Nashville. Where, besides recording an album, he’d relocate his family.

Belton, where he worked and grew up, and Raymore, where he lived, would just be sights in his rear-view mirror.

But that’s not how things worked out.

Yes, he did go to Nashville, worked on an album, planned road shows. But his family changed his mind about moving there.

“Probably back in March, we talked to the kids and said, ‘We’re probably going to end up moving to Nashville,’” Stevens, 38, recalls.

Son Hayden, 17, a high school junior, said he’d understand if they had to, but he really wanted to graduate with his friends.

And daughter Rylie, 12, a seventh-grader, was equally direct: “This is where I live. I wouldn’t know anyone.”

Stevens talked to his managers. He talked to his wife, Ashlie. The family decided to stay put.

“Why move the family where they have no friends or family to help take care of things?” Stevens says now. Especially when he was on the road, “they’d be down there by themselves.”

His people in Nashville signed off, too: Just come to town when you need to, they told him.

Which is not to say that life is status quo for the singer’s family. He calculates that over the last several months, he’s typically home about a day and a half each week.

Ashlie kept her IT job.

“I’m doing what I do, they’re crazy-proud and all that of me,” Stevens says. “But they live their own lives. When I’m gone, it’s business as usual.

“When I get home,” he jokes, “I just screw up their stuff.”

The family will be moving, though, from Raymore to a house now under construction elsewhere in Cass County.

Would Stevens call it a mansion? Well, no. “If you were a mole it’d be a mansion,” he says.

Nah, it’s “a little bigger” than what they have now. Bigger yard, too. And not exactly the acreage Stevens talked about wanting before he landed on the “X Factor” stage in Hollywood.

Ashlie doesn’t want to live out in the sticks. Besides, he’s away a lot.

Which takes us back to Nashville and No. 1 on Stevens’ list of 2013 highlights: Being asked to perform at the Grand Ole Opry last summer. He has since returned three more times.

“All the greats have played there, and all the greats stood where you’re standing,” he says. A humbling, scary feeling.

“The first night I don’t remember. I have no idea what I said, it went so fast. I walked offstage and thought, ‘That sucked, because I have no idea what happened.’ Each time it’s very surreal: ‘I’m really standing here singing at the Grand Ole Opry.’”

Another highlight: producing his first big-time album. And in lickety-split fashion, about a month and a half. He co-wrote three of the songs. The cleverly titled “Tate Stevens” was released in April.

That’s also the month he performed two shows at the Midland, really his first two big road shows since winning “X Factor.” Hometown fans “made us feel like rock stars,” he says.

He’s now working on his second album, although it might not come out until late 2014. He has recorded six songs already, one of which should be released as a single soon, maybe January.

But whatever happens, expect Stevens to stay in Missouri.

The other night, he and Ashlie were grocery shopping, “and some lady just walked up and said, ‘This is why we love you.’ I looked at her and kinda laughed. She said, ‘You shop at Price Chopper!’”

Yep, and Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club, too, he told her.

People suppose he’s living a fancy new life.

“Nah, I’m the same guy I was,” he’ll tell them. “I just have this really cool job now.”

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