When Tate Stevens' wife told him that she had signed him up to audition for The X Factor in Kansas City last year without his knowledge, he was less than enthusiastic about the idea, even telling her flat-out that he wasn't going to go.
"We'd watched the first season," Stevens tells TVGuide.com. "We watched American Idol, The Voice. We watched all those shows. And you see, 15, 20,000 people standing outside in lines. I'm like, 'There's no way I'm going to stand in those lines. No. Not gonna happen.'"
But his wife wouldn't take no for an answer. "She said, 'I'll go stand in line with you if you go,'" Stevens recalled. "So we went."
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As much as Stevens may hate to admit it now, his wife made the right call. Less than a year after that first audition, Stevens is in the middle of promoting his self-titled major-label debut, which was released last week as part of his prize package for winning The X Factor last December.
It's a resurgence of sorts for Stevens, who pursued a career in music several years ago as a member of several bands before giving it up in order to spend more time with his wife and kids. This time around, of course, it's on a much larger scale.
"Then, we were playing music and making a living at it, but we weren't going anywhere," he explains. "You do this show, you do that show. But ... I wasn't selling records. I didn't have songs on the radio, things like that. So, for lack of a better term, it's for real this time."
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Though it's been a long time coming, Stevens said he's grateful that things are starting to happen for him now that he's spent several years paying his dues.
"I don't know if I would have been able to handle much success when I was in my 20s," the 38-year-old tells TVGuide.com. "You guys might have been writing about me running down the street naked, doing crazy stuff. Who knows? But we're here and we're going to make the best of it."
Stevens said he started writing immediately after he arrived in Nashville after his X Factor run, pairing up with some of the top songwriters in the city and regularly attending two or three writing sessions per day. In the end, three of the songs he penned made it onto the 11-song album, which was released last week.
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The whole journey's been a whirlwind, Stevens says, and one that he never expected to happen in the first place, even as his wife dragged him to that audition nearly a year ago.
"I was really waiting for the bottom to drop out," Stevens says of his mindset throughout his X Factor run — even though he found himself in first or second place nearly every week heading into the finale. "'Oh hey, look at the country guy. Oh, there he went. See you later.' That's kind of what I was thinking through the thing. ... It's a crazy, crazy thing. It's really stressful, emotionally and mentally stressful, to be in that situation."
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Of course all the stress was alleviated when host Mario Lopez announced that Stevens had beaten 13-year-old Carly Rose Sonenclar to win the competition.
"I couldn't really hear very well," Stevens recalled of his moment of victory. "He said my name, I looked at [mentor L.A. Reid], and then L.A. just looked at me and smiled. And I was like, oh my God, we did it. ... Do I roll around and scream? I didn't really know what to do. It was very emotional."
The main difference in his life now, according to Stevens? "I'm doing what I love doing," he says simply. "I have a little freedom now, financially. But really just doing what I love is the main difference. I'm the same guy as I was before I was on the show, and I'll continue to be that guy. I'm a dad and a husband and an artist, and that's what I am."
Check out Stevens' single "Power of a Love Song" below: