Belton cheers hometown hero Tate Stevens on ‘X Factor’

Tate Stevens’ “X Factor” competition may not want to hear this, but even Santa is throwing his weight behind the country singer from Belton.

“Right now, Tate Stevens is the man,” Mr. Claus said Wednesday night in Belton, sporting a white Tate T-shirt over his red velvet.

The jolly old elf was one of hundreds of Stevens fans who packed the gymnasium of the Belton Freshman Center for a combination watch party and pep rally. An “X Factor” camera crew was on hand, too, high above the crowd on a lift and on the floor for live interviews. Every so often, the show would cut from Hollywood to fan gatherings in the three finalist acts’ hometowns.

“X Factor’s” Wednesday show was about performances. The winner will be announced on a two-hour broadcast Thursday (7 p.m. on Fox).

Any time Stevens appeared on the big screen in Belton — starting the moment he joined in the Michael Jackson song “You Are Not Alone,” a tribute to the Connecticut school shooting victims — the cheers and applause rose to ear-splitting levels.

Just outside, a snow plow blade attached to a truck proclaimed this to be “Home of Tate Stevens,” a reminder that Stevens is also a Belton street crew worker. At one point, Belton Mayor Jimmy Odom showed a photo of a city water tower emblazoned with a Tate Stevens tribute. Belton plans to raise money to repaint the city water tower with the message “Home of Tate Stevens, Live the Dream.”

Before the show, cheerleaders and dance squads from Belton and Raymore-Peculiar high schools, usually rivals, performed rah-rah routines. Country music blared. On the giant screen, stagehands could be seen scurrying around the “X Factor” stage in L.A. One moment showed Demi Lovato hugging fellow judge Simon Cowell.

DeeAnn Pope of Belton, her husband and three kids were among fans in the bleachers. The family had three cellphones among them, and they planned to use them to vote for Stevens.

“You know what, he’d better throw a party if he wins,” Pope said, referring to Stevens’ pledge at his Sprint Center audition to do just that. “Country music rocks around here, even with teenagers.”

Elaine Garsow said she graduated a couple of years behind Stevens at Belton High School. Last week, she voted at least 100 times for him, she said. Her daughter Victoria, 12, holding a neon-green “United Tate’s of America” sign, figured she voted 50 times.

“I think he’s got it all the way,” Garsow said, dismissing the notion that 13-year-old Carly Rose Sonenclar might be able to beat Stevens.

“She’s been messing up lately,” Victoria added.

Stevens sang three times Wednesday night, including the hangin’-out-at-the-lake song “Pontoon” with the band Little Big Town, a performance in which he took obvious delight. He also sang Chris Young’s “Tomorrow,” and he reprised Randy Houser’s “Anything Goes,” which he sang at the Sprint Center in June.

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