Tate Stevens is no newcomer to the music business. He's been performing for years. But from the moment he won first place in the 2012 edition of The X Factor, he's experienced the business on a whole new level -- something like being caught in an avalanche.
Virtually overnight, the Missouri-born singer-songwriter found himself with a major label recording contract, a publishing deal, a booking agreement and a big-name manager, all elements of his estimated $5 million first prize.
He also faced the obligation of getting out an album fast in order to make the most of his perishable celebrity.
"I got to Nashville Jan. 3  and started two or three writing sessions a day," he recalls. "We had to have everything done by the second week of February. The whole album was done by then."
Produced by Blake Chancey -- of Dixie Chicks and Little Big Town fame -- the album Tate Stevens came out in late April and debuted at No. 4 in Billboard.
The album was released on the Sysco Music/RCA Nashville label. Sysco is the imprint of Simon Cowell, creator of The X Factor.
Stevens co-wrote three of the album's 11 songs, including one with his "favorite singer," Joe Diffie.
"I think Joe is one of the best country singers we've had," he says. "I've been a huge Joe Diffie fan since 1990."
Among other writers who contributed material are David Lee Murphy, Dallas Davidson, Ben Hayslip, Rivers Rutherford, Phil O'Donnell and Kim Tribble.
Writing on such a tight deadline was stressful, Stevens concedes.
"Oh, yeah. It was tough. But those guys are so good at it," he says. "Doing it every day, they craft amazing tunes all the time. It was hard for me -- probably not for them. But it was a lot of fun, though."
All the songs were in hand by the time Stevens started recording.
While he didn't have the final say on which songs he would record, he did have a vote.
"The label obviously had a part and my manager and my producer. ... There were some songs that didn't make this first album that might make the next one."
Stevens' new manager is Ken Levitan, who also oversees the careers of Lyle Lovett, Emmylou Harris and Hank Williams Jr., among others. He's booked by CAA and writes for Sony/ATV Music.
He's already assembled a five-piece band and will be touring this summer both as a solo artist and an opening act.
Stevens had to suspend performing the two and a-half months he was in Los Angeles for The X Factor.
"We didn't have time [to work]," he says. "Before that, I was performing at various weekend spots and on fairs and festivals around the country."
Stevens' mentor on The X Factor was pop producer and songwriter L.A. Reid.
"He didn't know [country music] all that well," Stevens acknowledges, "but he knows great music. He's a good guy to have in your camp."
Since he's still a "new artist" by chart standards, Stevens includes cover songs in his shows, some of which he sang on The X Factor.
"[We do] some classic country and rock stuff, as well as all the songs from the new album," he says. "We mix it up pretty good."
He says he generally closes his shows with "Holler if You're With Me," which made its debut on this year's Grammy-awards broadcast as the soundtrack for a Pepsi commercial. The opportunity to star in the commercial was yet another part of Stevens' X Factor winnings.
Now 38 years old, Stevens thinks he's better prepared for the rigors of success than he would have been had they come to him when he was just starting out.
"Well, I'm a little slower," he says with a chuckle. "I believe that I'm ready. I can handle all the things that are going to happen -- and that do happen. I don't know if I would have been able to handle it so well at 20. I definitely appreciate things a lot more now."