Tate Stevens and Mentor L.A. Reid: 'Country Music is Ready for an 'X Factor' Champ'

"I may have gotten Tate in trouble early on," the judge admits. "But once I started to understand that the more country, the better, we hit our stride."
Frank Micelotta / PictureGroup / Fox

It was the season’s most unlikely pairing: veteran music executive L.A. Reid, who's helped catapult the likes of Usher, TLC, Mariah Carey and Rihanna to multi-platinum success, mentoring Tate Stevens, a 37-year-old country singer and father whose dreams of a music career were long ago sidelined by responsibility. That was, until his wife and kids convinced him to audition for Fox's The X Factor.

And wouldn’t you know, a few months and many millions of votes later, Stevens was standing on a giant TV stage, wiping tears away as he saw images of his nieces and nephews beamed via satellite. “It's very emotional, I'm spent,” he told reporters after the show. “I’m not gonna sleep tonight, I know that -- and if I do, it won't be much at all. It's gonna be a long night.”

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Just as it’s been a long journey, during which mentor Reid learned a thing or two about the country market. Most importantly, to get out of its way.

“What I've noticed is the more country the songs are, the more confident Tate is,” said Reid. “Because I didn't have a background in country music, I always made decisions that were a little more pop-leaning for him -- and I may have gotten him in trouble early on, but once I started to understand that the more country, the better, we sort of hit our stride. I'm really proud of him.”

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The moment that stood out for Reid on finale night? “Hearing Little Big Town shout Tate Stevens’ name,” he said. “I was proud. Because I felt like he got a full-on endorsement from a bona fide country star.”

To that end, Stevens points to the genre as a whole as having the “X Factor.” “Country music is still one of the biggest-selling music genres,” he said, adding that fans of twang “still go to concerts and still buy really CDs -- like, they go to the store and get the little plastic discs. So I definitely think country music is ready for an X Factor champ.”

Twitter: @THRMusic