And now it’s up to the American public… Can 30 million-plus voters be wrong?
When it comes to the grand prize winner of “The X Factor,” the contestant who will walk off with a recording contract, $5 million and an uncertain career as a pop music star, it’s anybody’s guess.
And while big-voiced Melanie Amaro, the 19-year-old church-going gal from Sunrise, FL, who almost didn’t make it out of the judges’ homes stage, only to get a last-minute reprieve from mentor Simon Cowell, is the favorite, the race remains thisclose, with hybrid hip-hop rehabbed trash hauler Chris Rene and burrito slinging Midwest baritone soul man Josh Krajcik still within striking distance.
Nothing much was changed with tonight’s performances, which basically included three pairs of duets with established performers, which placed them in context, followed by reprises of the audition songs that got them discovered in the first place.
In the end, this vote will be a referendum on three distinctively American popular music styles—Amaro’s pop diva, Rene’s blue-eyes pop-rap and Krajcik’s heartland classic rock. Ask me whom I want to win and it’s easy. A born-and-bred-on-rock boomer, the 30-year-old working class hero Josh is my man, with the doting mom who fuels his dream to the aw-shucks, I’m just glad to be here humility. Ask me who’s worth the $5 million, and I’ll respond, Rene is the guy most in tune with today’s Top 40 crossover musical trends, a Bruno Mars-meets-Taio Cruz in the making, the only one to make it this far with his own material, also, no small factor. If it’s the best pure vocal ability you’re after, it’s gotta be Melanie Amaro, who literally sings circles around the other two. So which one’s gonna win? Who do I look like, Nostradamus?
Love Josh Krajcik, and he did nothing to dissuade me with his version of “Uninvited,” with Alanis Morissette. Although he looked awfully uncomfortable at first, and the song didn’t necessarily play to his strengths, he eased into the performance, and his beaming look at Morissette was downright charming, and by the end, you bought that Josh belonged up on that stage in that company. “He’s a very soulful man,” admitted Morissette.
“That was surreal,” marveled L.A. Reid. “Such a natural pairing.” “I couldn’t think of a better way to open the competition,” said Paula. “You kept your identity and your integrity. “I thought you were a little intimidated in the beginning,” averred Simon, as Josh protested: “She’s completely disarming in her beauty and talent.” Nicole sniffed, “That’s an artist merely acknowledging the presence of another artist.” Krajcik’s grandmother appeared on a remote from hisWooster,OH, high school, bringing a furtive tear to my own eye.
For his second performance, Krajcik took his guitar and wrenched out the version of Etta James’ “At Last,” which first caught the judges’ (and public’s) attention. With the legendary blues belter on her death bed, it was overall an emotional experience, and, as I Tweeted, could give him a puncher’s shot at the five million samoleans. I’d love to see an upset—god knows roots-soul-rock could use a good kick in the ass—but I just don’t see Krajcik Magic overcoming both Amaro and Rene. He’s a brilliant song interpreter in a world where pop music is churned out by committee and computer, an analog dude in a digital world. “I’m just a regular guy fromOhiowho plays music,” said Josh. “I’ve spent 15 years just scraping by.”
Chris Rene’s story remains the one hardest to top—the kid from Santa Cruz who turned to music to overcome a crippling addiction, and is now on the threshold of having all his dream come true. It’s a feel-good tale climaxed by his “friends from rehab’ and the Mayor of Santa Cruz alike congratulating him on live remote.
Rene’s duet of “Complicated” with Avril Lavigne was by far the most natural of all the pairings, the pefect song for his hip-pop lite sound. “He’s amazing,” gushed Avril. “I think everyone should vote for him. He sang my song and he’s a dude. He kicked ass.”
Nicole thought “it was a little shaky in the take-off, but you came out on top. The light around you is so infectious.” Paula dismissed the notion this contest is based on “hitting the notes,” and more about “energy that connects with an audience. ‘Complicated’ is the antithesis of what you’re about.” Simon rolled his eyes and gave his blessing: “When it kicked in, what I felt was your total joy and confidence. That could be a hit record.”L.A.said he looked right at home with Avril, someone Reid discovered and originally signed when he was head of Arista. “You’re both cut from the same cloth. You’re both stars. We could put that record out tomorrow and it would be a #1 hit.”
With his second performance, a reprise of his own “Young Homie,” the song whose video now has 10 million views, Rene cemented his position as a real contender. “It’s all come down to tonight,” he says. “I messed up for so long. The only thing that saved me is music. The biggest moment of my life starts tonight” It’s a true saga of redemption, and it could be strong enough to make Rene the last one standing.
His mentor L.A. Reid has been a believer from the beginning. “I had a connection with him like no other,” said the veteran record exec. “And he stayed straight, which means more to me than winning.”
Nicole got philosophical, “We all have a purpose in life and you are serving your purpose with that song.” Paula insisted, “You are magic, the consummate original singer/performer.” Simon dubbed the performance, “your $5 million song… You stuck to your deal. You are a man of your word. A brilliant performer, true gentleman and a really nice guy.”L.A.was more emphatic: “I’ve never seen you pour yourself into a song like you just did.”
If you ask me, Melanie Amaro did nothing to put a dent in her front-runner status. With Leona Lewis scheduled to perform on the show, it makes for an apt comparison with the “X Factor” U.K. winner. Amaro’s duet with R. Kelly on “I Believe I Can Fly,” made for odd bedfellows—the prim British Virgin Island church girl and the notoriously sexual ladies’ man going all church on us, but it worked. L.A. predictably thought she was “a little bit overshadowed by R. Kelly. I didn’t get the full-on Melanie I was expecting.” Nicole noticed Melanie singing in Kelly’s key, not her own, “but you shined in your ad-libs. You soared and gave it wings.” Paula thought it “fitting that you sing that song, [but] I wanted more emotion.” Simon sniffed. “it’s called showing respect for your fellow artist, calling it “incredible.”
Amaro had the “pimp position” to close the show, and she didn’t let down with a crackling version of Beyonce’s “Listen,” which she performed at her very first try-out. She didn’t move, but her voice certainly did, and if this were only a singing competition, I’d give her the title hand’s down. But it’s more than that, and Melanie might not have distanced herself enough. The judges were all impressed, though.L.A.said, “That wasn’t a $5 million performance; that was a $50 million performance. That is the Melanie I love.” Nicole remember her as “the very first I felt connected with… You empowered me.” “You delivered,” echoed Paula. “A stellar performance, so gorgeous.” Simon repeated his spiel about deciding to take the show toAmericato find an artist like her. “You’re never going to get teased again. You are the winner of ‘X Factor.’”
We’ll see if what Simon says comes true tomorrow night.
THE FINAL POWER RANKINGS
1. MELANIE AMARO: Has she done enough to win? Is she the next great pop diva? It’s all in your hands now.
2. CHRIS RENE: With his songwriting ability, charm and (so-far) successful rehab, he’s got the goods and the back story to match, but will his lack of vocal range ultimately cost him?
3. JOSH KRAJCIK: Is he the new rock Andrea Bocelli or the world’s most soulful karaoke singer? I know I’d be nervous handing him a check for $5 million, but the dude deserves it.
1. CHRIS RENE, “Young Homie”: Gotta admit, I felt the tingle.
2. MELANIE AMARO, “Listen”: She’s got the goods.
3. MELANIE AMARO (with R. Kelly), “I Believe I Can Fly”: Yes, she looks like she belonged.
4. JOSH KRAJCIK, “At Last”: No one can deny the brother’s got soul. How long will that humility last, though?
5. CHRIS RENE (with Avril Lavigne): “Complicated”: Win or lose, this guy has potential to be a real pop star a la Bruno Mars.
6. JOSH KRAJCIK (with Alanis Morissette), “Uninvited”: Just wish he wasn’t so taken with her.