December 19 was a memorable night on The X Factor USA 2012 as the top three acts engaged in a vocal duel for the coveted $5 million recording contract. It was smooth sailing for country crooner Tate Stevens, whose round one offering earned not only across-the-board praise from the mentors, but an unusual reward from his hometown of Belton, Missouri.
During his pre-performance taped segment, Tate reflected on the seriousness of being in the finals, noting that he was just one performance from "making all my dreams come true". He later shared with mentor LA Reid that it was his wife Ashlie and kids who had convinced him to audition for the reality show, and LA expressed his thanks to Tate's family for making such a good decision. Tate closed his pre-taped segment by once again telling America that though the other two competing acts --Fifth Harmony and Carly Rose Sonenclar-- want to win, he needs to win.
When the 37-year-old finally hit the stage to sing his Song of the Season, he wowed the crowd with "Anything Goes", the very same tune that impressed the judges during his initial audition. It was filled with passion and earmarked by the heart and soul that dominated his previous numbers. He loves to perform and it showed.
The mentors were pleased. Britney Spears loved him for his "right down the middle country" style. Demi Lovato called herself an "obsessed" fan and praised him for elevating the number into a "stadium performance". Simon Cowell agreed with Demi, and called him "authentic". He congratulated LA for working so well with someone with a talent so different than his typical genre. LA said he was "really really proud" of Tate, and appreciated how his "lovability" factor had never changed.
Show hosts Mario Lopez and Khloe Kardashian-Odom then turned attention to a broadcast from Tate's high school in Belton, where his very emotional boss told him he never expects to see him back at work. Moments later, the town's mayor revealed that the water tower would bear Tate's name in honor of his achievement. An emotional Tate called the high praise "very cool".
Will Tate Stevens emerge as the big winner? Watch The X Factor USA 2012 finale Thursday night at 8 PM on FOX and find out.