Don't expect Tate Stevens to rest on his laurels now that he's won The X Factor and is, more or less, $5 million richer.
Backstage after Thursday's finale, the 37-year-old former highway worker from Belton, Mo., was already thinking ahead to the country album he'll soon record.
"I know what we're doing, the direction I wanna go," Tate said. "I'm gonna have some stuff on there that'll tug at your heart—country ballads. But I wanna have songs that are fun, [too]. I'm a fun guy, so I want that to come through on my record."
In fact, Simon Cowell revealed that, even before Tate triumphed over 13-year-old Carly Rose Sonenclar, he had already begun preliminary work on an album with producer John Shanks.
"Regardless of what was going to happen, [John] wanted to work with [Tate], so they started to write material," Simon said. "The country community really have embraced this guy. They think he's the real deal, which is vital. I think Tate fits into where Garth Brooks was, that market, and I think he's gonna sell a lot of records."
Tate's clearly grateful to even have the opportunity. "I'm indebted to Simon and everyone here [forever]," said the devoted family man. "They've changed my life.
"I think it's gonna take awhile to sink in and really get the magnitude of what happened tonight," he continued. "This is huge."
What was going through Tate's mind as he waited onstage to hear the results?
"Leading up to that moment, I wanted to throw up," he said with a laugh. "It was so intense. When they called my name, I just remember looking at [mentor] L.A. Reid and I said, ‘They called my name. I won.' And then I turned into a big, old puddle of mush and we had a big, old man hug for awhile."
"He's a great guy," Tate said of the departing L.A., who made his final appearance as an X Factor judge tonight. "I pray I continue to work with him in the future. He's as good as they get."
Backstage, L.A. beamed like a proud parent as he spoke about Tate. "A part of the secret to Tate winning wasn't me suggesting things, it was me listening to him," the record exec exclusively told E! News. "Because he really does know who he is as an artist, and he knows who he is as a man. So he can tell me and tell whoever he works with what he needs to do. I trust his instincts."
L.A. called his last show "emotional" and said he's thrilled to exit on a high note. "The beauty of X Factor is we actually change people's lives," he said. "That's what we did here tonight."