Melanie Amaro -- the teenaged singer Simon Cowell sent home during auditions – won the first edition of Cowell’s “X Factor,” which means she lands the much-promised $5 million recording contract and will appear in a Pepsi commercial during next year’s Super Bowl broadcast on Fox network.
The 19-yeary-old student from Sunrise, Florida overcame confidence problems caused by that competition whiplash, to beat runner up Josh Krajcik – the 30-year-old surviving member of the so-called “Over 30’s” team, who’d been mentored by former Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger.
Unlike Fox’s other singing competition, “American Idol,” the network’s new fall entry does not set an upper age limit on competitors; the category in which Krajcik competed had also included LeRoy Bell, who was pushing 60.
“We came here to find a superstar and we found a superstar,” Cowell said after show host Steve Jones announced the results at the end of a two-hour broadcast that had included performances by Justin Bieber, Stevie Wonder, 50 Cent, Ne-Yo, and Pitbull.
“Thank you for everyone who supported the show – I’m very grateful,” added Simon in a rare instance of on-screen humility. In its U.S. debut, “X Factor” improved Fox’s ratings fortunes considerably and became a major new fall ratings player, but fell well short of the 20 million viewers Cowell had so cockily forecast it would attract before its launch.
“Thank you so much! I’m so happy – I’ve wanted this all my life!” raved Amaro, who, on the strength of her voice won a competition that seemed to want to make the race all about relatability.
“X Factor” second runner up Chris Rene was fresh out of rehab for drug addiction when he auditioned for the reality competition series which has been a major ratings hit in the UK, where it got its start, and in other countries.
About one hour into the show, Rene, the guy who had been forecast to win by various companies that measure internet buzz, was named third-place finisher.
“I can hardly believe it!” show host Steve Jones raved. “How do you feel?”
“I feel amazing that I got to do this…I just got to say ‘thank you’,” the easy-listening hip hopper said when he got the hook.
Anyway, here’s how the show went:
The “ X Factor” finale opens Thursday night with the three remaining X-testants singing Christmas tunes.
For Melanie Amaro that’s Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You.” Judge Nicole Scherzinger says that was “princess goddess warrior” singing. Judge Paula Abdul compliments her on wearing her hair off her face. Melanie’s mentor, show creator Simon Cowell says he wants to take the opportunity to thank her for being such a pleasure to work with and that he’s now praying she will win because she deserves it.
Chris Rene emotes his way through “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” after which his mentor, Nicole tells him “You are a star from the inside out” and Simon notes the competition would not have been the same without him. But his mentor, LA Reid, insists his experience can truly change the world.
Josh Kracjik sings “Please Come Home for Christmas.” Simon says Krajcik illustrates why he does not believe in putting an upper age limit on singing competition participants.
Justin Bieber performs Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song,” or as Biebs styles it “Chestnuts (yeah) roasting (yeah,yeah) on an open fire (yeah, yeah, yeah)” because the Bieb doesn’t do musical rests. He’s joined by Stevie Wonder; Justin does some spins while Stevie sings.
Next number: “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” The X-producers try their usual trick of upstaging a perfomer with dancers doing rhythmic interpretations but Bieber seems oblivious and works the edge of the stage with hand touches.
Bieber brings out waifish Drew, the teenager for whom Simon had such grand hopes, to sing the final bar then graciously makes all her wall-poster dreams come true with a hug and a hand kiss. Instead of letting the newly-brunette-d Drew her have her moment, show host Steve Jones pops up for the required interview, and says that Drew’s “dream was standing on the beach with Justin, watching the sun go down” to which Drew replies “Yeah, that was kind of better.”
“It’s time to get serious,” Steve says, as the 9 o’clock hour approaches, because one contestant will be sent home. But, commercials before “serious.”
Steve calls the contestants and their and back to the stage.
And the loser is (making us wait, making us wait, making us wait)…Chris Rene. Gasp! Rene had seemed like a crowd favorite based on the reaction of the in-studio audience (who chanted his name last night), and the show producers and judges had so thoroughly worked over the fact that he was recently out of drug rehab. Both Simon and Chris’s mentor LA Reid claimed several times on air Wednesday night that Chris was still in the competition because he had promised HIM, not the other guy, that he would stay sober). So we just kind of assumed – well, that America couldn’t say no to drug recovery, no matter if Chris was clearly a weaker singer than Josh or Melanie.
Now we know where America stands -- apparently firmly on the side of singing chops.
Steve tells Chris he “can’t believe we are actually saying good bye to you,” but Chris is philosophical, saying “I got to touch a lot of people’s hearts out there, and I just got to say ‘Thank you’.” But Steve can’t let it go: “This is weird,” he adds” before throwing it to the judges for comment. “This is how it turned out but it doesn’t matter, this is my man,” says LA.
Steve – always at his school-marmish best in the post-whack-a-contestant scrum on stage -- shines once again. “I’ll have to send you off now, please! Josh, give him a quick hug!” he says.
We don’t think Steve throws fun parties.
A taped bit follows: The Top 5 Most Shocking Moments, of which No. 1 is the take down of 13-year-old Rachel Crow, who collapsed in a heap on the stage and bawled like a baby when she got the hook. We are guessing that including this taped bit is as close to an apology as we’re getting from the show producers for staging The End of Rachel’s Childhood on national television. Or, maybe they just think it was great television.
And here’s little Rachel live, and healed, and sounding as cheerful as ever. “First, I’m doing amazing, thank you. Second there are amazing things coming in the future,” she tells Steve, adding, “And, third I’m going to steal your job!”
She gets to introduce the next act, Leona Lewis to sing “Run”. Leona is the winner of the 2006 British X-Factor and it’s easy to see why: She looks like a model and sings pretty well. While she sings, images of the past X-season are projected on a screen behind her, prompting periodic outbursts from the audience.
The medley inspires Steve to ask the judges “what was the year like for you?” LA Reid calls it “an emotional journey.” Paula Abdul calls it “one of the most exciting job experiences I’ve ever had”—uh, oh -- sounds like somebody is working on her LinkedIn profile! She thanks Simon for the opportunity and thumps him on the back. Simon uses his turn to thank God that Leona Lewis won on one of his shows.
Coming up, Steve says “50 Cents!”
But, first, commercials, and another chance for Steve to ask Melanie and Josh how they are feeling.
And, another taped bit: LA vs. Simon Smackdown:
LA to Simon: “You must be really rich because $5 million doesn’t mean much to you.”
Simon to LA: “I am sick to death of your pointless, stupid criticism.”
And so on.
Memo to X-producers: Hire some writers for these guys!
Out comes 50 Cent; who performs “Waiting Till Tonight” but with a lot of gaps of edited silence. The song goes something like this:
(redacted)(redacted)how you want it(redacted)
You gon’ get it, you gon’ get it!”
And dancers in short shorts set a whole new limit for explicitness for an X-production number.
Another taped bit. Nicole vs. Paula, The Cry-Off, showing weepy moments during the season for the two lady judges. Nicole wins by far, based on the very special End of Rachel’s Childhood Episode, which the producers just can’t stop bringing up.
Pitbull and Ne-Yo perform “International Love” and “Give Me Everything,” and out comes Marcus Canty who compares very well to these pros. We’ve got a whole new perspective on Marcus.
The two finalists will duet. Josh seems to enjoy it, Melanie looks like the pressure is getting to her, as they run through “Heroes,” the Oasis/David Bowie/Wallflowers tune. The most memorable part of the performance: realizing that the two best singers actually made it through to the end.
And now, finally, it’s time to announce a winner. Out come the two finalists with their mentors while, for the last time this year, we hear that ominous, pagan-sacrifice music from Carmina Burana that always made it seem every week like an X-testant was going to end up not just rejected, but burned at the stake.
Josh looks actually happy. Melanie is in pain. Simon has his eyes closed.
Making us wait. Making us wait. Making us wait.
Tears. Hugs. And of course, Steve: “If it’s even possible, can you tell me how you feel in this moment?”
Melanie can’t really. She’s ignoring him and dealing with the people who’ve been allowed to rush her on stage.
“Give her a hug for a second and I’ll be right back,” Steve vamps. He turns to Josh who graciously says “Melanie deserves it, she has a wonderful voice…I got to be myself, sing what I want to sing and I couldn’t be happier.” True, he did make it through the competition with his integrity intact -- always a challenge in one of these shows.
Melanie is on her knees, prayerfully. Family members rush her on stage.
Steve grabs Simon: “She’s going to be a star. She’s going to represent this country.”
Steve, such a fussbudget, shouts to mobbed Melanie: “Melanie, you do know you have to sing in a moment?”
Yes, they’re going to make her perform. The song is “Listen” and her voice comes and goes through the tears.
But an X-production number waits for no one! The flashing lights, the singers, stage right and left. Then a big back chorus comes out center stage while Rachel struggles on. The whole cast of contestants and some people who might be dancers, come out and mobs her and she cries and sings to the end of the number.
But it’s not over till Steve Jones says it’s over. “I’m looking for Melanie Amaro, she just won the ‘X Factor’…How do you feel?”
Melanie struggles for words. “I don’t even know what to say -- god is good!”
Simon steps in. “We found a superstar… Thank you to everyone who supported this show, thank you.”
GALLERY: View more photos from “X-Factor.”