The winner of "The X Factor" is ...
After her name was announced, Melanie was utterly speechless. All she could do was whisper, "Oh my god," several times when Steve Jones tried to get a comment out of her. Her family rapidly rushed the stage to hug her, while her mentor, Simon Cowell, commented: "America, thank you for giving this girl an opportunity ... She is a star, I'm very proud and very grateful."
Somehow, Melanie was expected to perform after hearing the news. It was perhaps the first time all season that she sounded less than perfect. She was understandably forgetting the words and missing her cues as she sobbed, surrounded by family and the other contestants.
After the performance, she finally managed to gather herself enough to address her fans. "Thank you so much," she sobbed. "I don't even know what to say -- God is good!" Simon Cowell succinctly summed up the night by insisting, "We came here to find a superstar and we found a superstar."
Josh Krajcik came in second. Chris Rene came in third.
If you're interested in what happened during the rest of the show, here are some highlights:
We kicked off with a supremely awkward group number (what else is new?) in which the final 12 performed Lady Gaga's "The Edge of Glory" with no discernable sense of timing or harmony. Thankfully, some enterprising individual backstage made certain that Lakoda Rayne's microphones were turned down, but there was no disguising how shaky Chris Rene sounded and Rachel Crow pretty much shouted her lines. An inauspicious start, to say the least.
The final three then had the opportunity to perform one more time -- without the added pressure of shilling for votes. Melanie was up first with a typically Mariah-esque rendition of "All I Want For Christmas Is You," which was note-perfect, as always. She was certainly the most vocally accomplished finalist, but I do understand the concerns of her critics who argue that her performances all sound the same or seem derivative of other artists. Because her tone is similar to the Whitneys, Mariahs and Beyoncés of the world, it will be far harder for her to carve out a niche for herself in the crowded female music marketplace, while Josh and Chris undeniably have more unique sounds. L.A. praised Melanie enthusiastically (for once), insisting, "That beautiful voice you have is the best friend a song has ever met." Nicole took the opportunity to get in one more nonsensical critique, calling Melanie a "princess goddess warrior."
Chris followed with "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," and no matter how much I respect and admire the guy for how far he's come, he still can't carry a tune. He hit some smooth notes in his upper register, and warmed up to the song as it progressed, but ... yikes. Simon admitted that the competition would not have been the same without Chris, calling him an inspiration. Paula called him stylish and stylized and in possession of great style (we have a new drinking game!), before dubbing him the "most original" contestant.
Last up was Josh, with a raspy and engaging rendition of "Please Come Home For Christmas." He seemed confident and comfortable on the stage, without any need for gimmicks. I think Simon was completely right when he predicted that Josh would sell a lot of records in the future. L.A. admitted (rightly) that judging Josh has been the toughest this year. "You've been so good that I'm always at a loss for words when it comes to you," he said, while Paula called him "magical."
Then came an unlikely duet of "The Christmas Song" between Justin Bieber and Stevie Wonder (I wonder how much of a bump the ratings got thanks to the Beliebers), before the teen pop icon tackled "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" solo. Bieber brought Drew out to sing the last line and made my cold, cynical heart melt; what would "The X Factor" finale be without one last teenage meltdown? Steve Jones acted like the drunken uncle who embarrasses you every year at Christmas dinner, by pointing out that Drew's dream was to hold hands with Justin on a beach as they watched the sun go down. Classy, Steve -- this is why everyone wants you fired. I am MORTIFIED on Drew's behalf, but she took it with grace and good humor, and I'm not going to lie, I'm thrilled for her; that moment was probably as good as winning the whole competition to her.
With much fanfare and prevaricating, our third-place contestant, Chris Rene, was revealed. I've got to say, I was shocked (and pleased) that the voters didn't let a compelling back-story distract them from vocal weakness, and I know that Chris will go on to sell plenty of records under either L.A. or Simon's tutelage, so it doesn't feel like much of an injustice. Chris remained a gentleman to the end, remarking, "I feel amazing that I got to do this, that I'm here, and that God has blessed me with so many opportunities. I've just gotta say thank you." L.A. insisted that he was still proud of his contestant and that Chris was still his man.
Then Steve did a terrible job of corralling Josh and Melanie back to the stage, leading to an abrupt cut to commercials. When we returned, we marched right back into awkwardsville by revisiting the top five most shocking moments of the season, culminating in Rachel Crow's traumatic elimination. Luckily, Rachel then joined our hapless host on stage to prove that she hasn't been committed to any kind of psychiatric facility following her breakdown, and after reassuring her fans that good things are coming soon for her, she told Steve that she wanted to steal his job. Can I register my approval of this idea now? Her 20 seconds reading from the teleprompter seemed more natural and charismatic than Steve has appeared all season. She introduced Leona Lewis, who proceeded to show everyone how it's done with a flawless rendition of "Run."
So. Much. Filler.
50 Cent and the L.A. Lakers took the stage for "Wait Until Tonight" and "In Da Club," the latter of which also featured Astro, who held his own admirably. Is 50 Cent any more relevant than Avril Lavigne these days, though? After an embarrassing Nicole vs. Paula "cry-off" segment, they rolled out Pitbull featuring Ne-Yo (and Marcus Canty!), and I found my will to live rapidly eroding.
Melanie and Josh then gave us a very cute duet of "Heroes" that proved to be an excellent showcase for their talents, even if their voices didn't mesh particularly well on the harmonies. The two had great chemistry, but I was mostly just relieved that Chris wasn't part of the final two, since there's no way he could've held his own against Melanie or Josh's crisp vocals.
Then, at long, long last, the winner was finally revealed, and Melanie's tearful celebration was hard-earned and incredibly touching. Josh was a graceful runner-up, praising his competition for her great voice and remarking that he was glad that he had been able to be himself and sing the songs that he wanted to sing throughout the competition.
So Melanie Amaro has been crowned our first ever champion of "The X Factor" in the U.S., with a Pepsi commercial and massive recording contract to keep her occupied. We may never know if it was pure talent that won her the top spot, or Simon Cowell's careful PR management that painted her as an underdog, even when she was the strongest competitor; but based on vocal talent, the Floridian was undeniably deserving.
Still, some burning questions remain: Will the cardboard cutout that passes for a host, Steve Jones, return to abruptly cut off the judges and inadvertently insult the losers again next season? Will Nicole Scherzinger be entrusted with mentoring another batch of competitors when she seems to think that she still is one? Will more people tune in? We'll find out next year.
See Melanie's performances throughout Season 1 of 'The X Factor':