Cass County’s Tate Stevens finished Fox’s “The X Factor” season with a fairytale ending.
“Thank you! Thank you Thank you! Thank god! I can’t thank you enough,” was the first Tweet 37-year-old Stevens sent out after he was crowned the winner Dec. 20, followed with the hashtag #TateNation.
More than 35 million votes were cast by viewers voting for Stevens and fellow competitors 13-year-old Carly Rose Sonenclar and teen girl group Fifth Harmony following during the contestant’s performances the night before.
The title is worth $5 million, but for Stevens, the stage name for Raymore resident Stephen Eatinger, it’s more now about living his dream to be a country star.
A dream that has been a few decades in the making.
“This is the best day of my life,” said Stevens, after the announcement.
Stevens’ talent was discovered by “The X Factor” at an audition last spring and later at Kansas City’s Sprint Center in June when British judge Louis Walsh told Stevens, and the other judges which included Britney Spears, Demi Lovato and L.A. Reid, “We found ourselves a country star.”
Stevens was given the go ahead to continue in the competition.
Prior to appearing on the music reality show, Stevens made his living as a street crew worker in his hometown of Belton.
“I can’t imagine having to go back to my job where I get to rake out a road that we’ve laid asphalt on and sing all I want and it doesn’t mean anything to anybody,” Stevens previously said on the show. “I don’t want to go do that.”
Stevens knew early on in life that he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father, Steve, also a country musician.
“I wanted to be like my dad,” Stevens said in an interview in September. “I love all kinds of music – I like rock and all that, but I’ve always been drawn to country music. Going fishing and hunting and everything with my dad when I was younger, while listening to country, had a big influence on my musical tastes.”
Stevens started playing the drums at an early stage, receiving his first set when he was only 4 years old, but remembers that singing was his first love.
“I used to sit in and sing with my dad’s bands when I was little,” Stevens said. “He’d put me up there (on stage) with him.”
Stevens later picked up the guitar during his senior year of high school, and after graduating from Belton High School in 1994, he hit the road to perform with the Dixie Cadillacs.
He traveled with the band across the country for about five years, performing in about 200 shows a year.
“I was going to try to make it,” Stevens said. “I went to Nashville and recorded a record, and did the whole thing, and had some minor success.”
However, Stevens’ time in the spotlight began to taper. Two years after his oldest child was born in 1997, he decided to come back home for good.
“I decided it was time to raise my family and take care of them, so I got a ‘real job,’ as they say,” Stephens said.
Stevens’ has spent the last nine years with the City of Belton.
Focused on working and caring for his family, Stevens took a few years off from performing, but eventually found his way back to the stage in 2004.
He joined The Outlaw Junkies, and went solo four years later.
Over the years, he’s performed at community day events across the area, and even shared the stage with big-name country stars, including Jason Aldean and Brooks & Dunn.
“Cuttin’ my teeth at an early age, out there on the road, I’ve kind of honed my skills, to do what I do now,” Stevens said.
Stevens performed Randy Houser’s “Anything Goes,” at his “The X Factor” audition, and again on Dec. 19.
“I was pretty nervous, for the simple fact, that if you watched the show last year at all, there was no country music at all,” Stevens said earlier in the season. “I was a little nervous about being the only country guy in my audition that I saw. I was the only guy in a cowboy hat and doing the country thing. I kind of felt out of place a little bit.”
Stevens also performed a duet to “Pontoon” with Little Big Town, “Tomorrow” by Chris Young, and “Please Come Home for Christmas” by Charles Brown in the finale.
His closest competitor throughout the season was Sonenclar, the 13-year-old contestant from New York state, who finished second in the competition.
During the eight weeks of live Hollywood shows, Stevens was No. 1 during three of those weeks, and No. 2 behind Sonenclar the other two weeks.
Belton Freshman Center has hosted watch parties for viewers during each of the live shows throughout the season, but when word spread that Stevens was a final contestant on the show, hundreds of community members packed into the school’s gymnasium for a celebration as “The X Factor” crew filmed shots of fans, friends and even Belton’s mayor, Jimmy Odom, encouraging Stevens Dec. 19.
During his appearance on national television, Odom revealed to Stevens of a plan to paint Stevens’ name onto the city’s water tower. The mayor said the city is looking for donations to cover the cost of painting the tower, but expects it to be complete within about six weeks.
Marla Elliston, who graduated with Stevens, helped organize the watch parties, was thrilled with the victory.
“When we were in high school, we thought he was going to be the one to go out to Nashville and was going to make it big,” she said. “We all knew his dream and how he put it on hold for his family but one day it was going to come true. To see it right here in front of America come true is phenomenal.”
In his reaction of being named the winner, Stevens thanked, “The man upstairs, for taking care of me.”
He also showed his support to his wife Ashlie, his parents, and two children, Hayden and Rylie, who are students in the Raymore-Peculiar School District.
His followers, TateNation, are now asking “Where’s the party at?”
When asked by X Factor judges at his June audition what he would do with the monetary prize if he would win, he responded, “Throw a big (posterior) party.”
Signs across Belton were still in tact Friday, cheering on the hometown boy who really did capture America’s heart with his cowboy hat and heartwarming dimple.
Stevens’ best friend Randy Elkins, who worked with him on the street department watched the finale at home.
“I think about every emotion possible ran through my body. It was unbelievable,” Elkin said. “It’s very big for Belton and Tate. Just the fact of how the City of Belton, the communities of Belton and Raymore, and how everyone just helped out and supported him. It was just an unbelievable experience.”
In speaking with Stevens following his win, Elkins said he was grateful for the community’s support.
“He wanted to thank everybody in support of TateNation,” he said.
In regards to his employment, Stevens hasn’t exactly called it quits with his streetworker gig, his boss confirmed Dec. 21.
“He’s still on our books,” street department superintendent David Frazier said. “We’d love to have him back but we he’s going on to bigger and better things.”
Nonetheless, Frazier was thrilled for his employee.
“My stomach was turning for him and my head about hit the ceiling when they announced it,” he said. “I think mostly, for the City of Belton, they’re just happy for him and his family - that he’s followed his dream and obtained it. The stars are the limit.”