The final three: Chris Rene, Melanie Amaro and Josh Krajcik. (Ray Mickshaw/FOX.)

America, we want to thank you for narrowing it down from 100,000 contestants to these three final “The X Factor” X-testants: burrito chef/soul growler Josh Krajcik, diva in training and newly proud of her Caribbean accent Melanie Amaro, and easy-listening hiphop singer/songwriter/rehab survivor Chris Rene. We know you were busy Christmas shopping and standing in unemployment lines so we first want to thank you, America, for bringing us to this point where the end of X is in sight.

And never, ever, ever, will any singing competition show mention so many times in one episode the words “$5 million prize.”

There is no second prize, says Josh, stunned. Chris Rene says he’s going to make history, Melanie Amaro promises to tear her heart out.

The judge/mentors make their entrance. LA Reid gives his Arabian Nights finger twizzle greeting. Nicole Scherzinger is wearing some kind of lacquer wear on her head — surprisingly, tea doesn’t come out when she bows; Paula Abdul is wearing a dress with a safety harness around the neck; Simon Cowell has shaved his chest again for the occasion.

LA is very proud of Chris Rene. Nicole has got Josh Krajcik’s back. Cowell, to whom Melanie was assigned, is certain this will be the closest finale in the history of “X Factor.” Paula’s got nothing.

Throughout the night, handsome model turned TV presenter Steve Jones tells us, the X-producers have gathered crowds and set up live remote feeds in the home town of each X-testant: at Josh’s high school in Wooster, Ohio; at the Santa Cruz, Calif. nightclub where Chris Rene used to sing; and at Melanie Amaro’s whopping-big church in Sunrise, Fla. And, just for extra excitement, they appear to have slipped Ritalin into the water supply, because these people are in a blind frenzy! Or maybe this is what people look like after watching a season of “X-Factor” production numbers?

During a news conference held earlier this week to gin up interest in this week’s finale Josh drew the short straw and has to sing first.

Josh Krajcik has been given a tough question to answer: Can anyone other than Alanis Morrisette sing an Alanis Morrisette song? Let’s try it out on weirdly tonal “Uninvited” which — look at that! — Josh is going to perform from Winkie Forest! Anyway, the answer is no, though Josh ranks high on the Good Sport scale for slogging through a chunk of the tune before making the big reveal: Alanis joins him to duet on the second half. Poor Josh — isn’t making a guy duet with Alanis Morrisette — the queen of alt-rock angst — kind of a nightmare on the level of being forced to go to couples counseling? Dude’s a pro, that’s all we’ve got to say.

The judges call it a great start to the show, LA pronounces Alanis’s “Jagged Little Pill” his favorite album of all time, and Simon notes Alanis “looks cute, by the way.”

Back at the high school, Josh’s grandma screams: “You’re making my heart swell up with pride — You can’t believe what’s going on down here!” Meanwhile, his uncle advises, “Kick it, boy! Kick it!”

LA reminds us Chris is eight months sober before Chris launches into “Complicated.” Chris is so mellow of course they’d pair him with Avril Lavigne, who’s like the loud girl on the mobile phone you’re trapped in line with at Starbucks. The two of them start down center stage, fairly skipping with each other. Chris sounds like harmonic fuzz attached to Avril’s piercing voice. She soaks up all the energy on stage and does most of the singing. This whole thing about pairing an X-testant with an experienced performer is not helping any of the X-testants look $5 million recording-contract-ish.

“This competition isn’t about note-for-note being perfect, it’s about energy and connection with the audience,” Paula reveals, which we think is kinda late in the competition for this news. But Chris’s mentor LA is confident he could release that duet tomorrow and it would be a No. 1 hit.

Back at the nightclub, Chris’s next-door neighbor Susan screams that the atmosphere is “electric” and “insane,” and some chick has baked him a cake. “We believe in you, brother!” shriek Chris’s rehab buddies Margie and Tim.

Melanie gets to duet with R Kelly on “I Believe I Can Fly” while, behind her, a cloud of hundreds of animated moths flutter hither and thither. And one thing we’re starting to notice about these guest celebrities is that they don’t do duets well. Sure, they look at the X-testants, but they’re giving their own performances of their own tunes. Kelly pulls ahead of Melanie in the riff competition though, overall, Melanie does the best job holding her own against her celebrity. That said, her performance was little like watching a weather reporter doing a live remote in a hurricane.

LA declares the tune one of the most important songs of the last 50 years. Nicole and Paula throw her left-handed compliments about doing the best she could under the circumstances. Simon tells America to ignore Grumpy and Dumpy and notes, correctly, that Melanie is the only X-testant who didn’t look like someone in a talent competition but like someone who was an established artist.

In church, the bishop hollers that they all love Melanie and are praying for her.

After the break, the X-testants will get one last at-bat — and this time they will not be saddled with celebrities.

All it takes is a few notes of “At Last” to know that Josh made a very smart song choice. After suffering through his Alanis Morrisette session, we’re pretty sure Josh has spent the time backstage pumping up his testerone level — making loud motorcycle noises and such. Because he comes out and performs, at his most gruff and growly, the Etta James standard. It’s got power, it’s got pent-up feeling. We credit Alanis!

“Such a rock star!” LA raves. Nicole and Paula swoon. Even Simon compliments Josh on taking a massive risk in singing a jazzy Etta James number for his “$5 million song.”

Back in high school, the mayor proclaims it Josh Krajcik Day in Wooster.

Good strategy, Chris Rene: He’s remembered that we’ll be hearing his performance after his triumph-over-addiction backstory tape and wisely chosen to come out of the tape to a repeat (three-peat, we think it might be — but who’s counting) of his autobio-hiphop “Homie.” We’ve heard this version before, though there are dancers for some extra diversion, and it’s as cheery as ever and a crowd pleaser. Why reach when you can go easy and win?

This song is Chris’s purpose in life, Nicole raves. “You are magic!” Paula giggles hysterically. Simon declares Chris a man of his word for having stayed straight, a true gentleman, and a really nice guy. LA proclaims it Chris’s best performance of that tune to date on this show, like there’s going to be more. Sadly, Chris will probably win this derby, based on Best Back Story — which, yes, means there are more performances of the Chris anthem in our future.

Back at the nightclub, some guys named Mark and Bruce profess their undying love for Chris and wave a guitar; the mayor is proud as punch too.

Melanie’s back-story has been that she lacks confidence but, for her finale, Beyonce’s “Listen,”she just exudes confidence, including a determined look on her face, lots of generous spreading of the arms, and plenty of big notes. It’s a get-outta-my-way performance and at the end, we can all feel glad that, if Melanie has found self-esteem, the whole multi-million dollar X Factor enterprise was not in vain.

“That wasn’t a $5 million performance — that was a $50 million performance!” LA gushes. Nicole talks about herself for a while. Paula calls it a stellar performance — Melanie’s, not Nicole’s. And, in conclusion, Simon announces that, based on that performance, “to me you should be the winner of the ‘X Factor’ because you’re going to represent the country all over the world.”

“America! Vote for Melanie Amaro!” demands the mayor of Sunrise, Fla.

“The Lines Are Now Open!” announces Steve.


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