From the beginning of "The X Factor" Season 2, Simon Cowell pushed the show as a tweenybopper program, hiring barely-20-year-old former Disney star Demi Lovato and pop princess Britney Spears as the new judges, and packing the season's top 13 with Teens, Young Adults, and three very young Groups. Simon's rival judge, L.A. Reid, was in fact so upset to be saddled with the dreaded "Over-25's" category that he threw a hissyfit and slammed down his phone in disgust when he was given his assignment. But on this Thursday's "X Factor" Season 2 finale, age trumped youth, and L.A.'s 37-year-old country crooner beat out Britney's 13-year-old Carly Rose Sonenclar and Simon's teenage girl group Fifth Harmony to win the show's $5 million record contract.
Tate is now the oldest champion in the entire "X Factor" franchise's history; the record was previously held by Steve Brookstein, who won the very first season of "The X Factor U.K." at age 36 in 2004.
Said a triumphant Tate, punching the air upon hearing the news: "First and foremost, I've got to thank the Man upstairs for taking care of me, and also my family, all the music fans, and thank you so very much for all the votes. This is the best day of my life!"
L.A. Reid probably regrets his aforementioned tantrum now. He did sound sincere when he told Tate, "Congratulations to you. You deserve this. I'm proud to work with you, and I think you represent 'The X Factor' very, very well."
Still, this irony was surely not lost on L.A., or Simon, or viewers, or even Tate himself--and not just because Simon has made it abundantly clear in the past that he's no fan of country music. The fact is, Tate was never the type of guy who was supposed to win this show. Simon clearly wanted to find the new Rihanna (aka Paige Thomas), the new Ke$ha (CeCe Frey), the new Whitney Houston (Diamond White), or, especially, the American equivalent of "The X Factor U.K.'s" One Direction (ahem, that would be Emblem3). But that didn't happen. Instead, he may have found the new Garth Brooks...
Among all of the top 13, Tate was always the most un-"X Factor"-y of all the "X Factor" contestants: older and utterly unflashy, a singer who'd never painted leopard spots on his face, performed while suspended in mid-air in a Pink aerial harness, surrounded himself with hoochie dancers, or in any way tried to appeal to the show's young target market. And yet, as the contestants' rankings were revealed on each week's live results show, Tate never left the top two during the entire season, and he was number-one on the leaderboard no less than three times. Tate was always the man--the man, as opposed to the boy--to beat.
Now it remains to be seen what the heck Simon (or departing judge L.A. Reid's Epic Records) will do with someone like Tate. He's not be the type of artist either executive is used to working with, but he's certainly commercial, professional, and marketable, and he's ready to take his hat act to Nashville right now. Tate may not really be doing anything new, but he's the type of traditional act that can sell records and make money, and we all know that L.A. and Simon (especially Simon) like selling records and making money. So maybe they'll do right by this guy, and he'll earn back that $5 million rather quickly.
But of course, all hope is not lost for Carly, who placed second, or for Fifth Harmony, who came in third. Last "X Factor USA" season, all of the top five, along with seventh-placer Astro, landed record deals, and it should be noted that "The X Factor U.K.'s" One Direction, who performed on Thursday's finale, were third-place finalists, not winners--and they obviously went on to do quite all right for themselves. I imagine there are many powers-that-be at Disney, Nickelodeon, or Broadway who'd love to work with a child prodigy like Carly (she's done Broadway before), and there's definitely a gap in the pop market for a powerhouse girl group like Fifth Harmony. However, a record contract, even a $5 million one, isn't the end-all and be-all anymore--keep in mind that not much has happened with "X Factor" Season 1 winner Melanie Amaro after two failed singles, and she has yet to even release a full-length album--so time will tell if Simon and L.A. will do right by any of these contestants. I certainly hope so, because the talent is certainly there.
We'll just have to wait and see, but in the meantime, congratulations to Tate on his victory, and to all three contestants for a great run.
- Season 2's most-robbed "X Factor" contestants
- L.A. Reid not returning for "X Factor" Season 3
- More on "The X Factor"