The X Factor: The final performance show
For a while there, I thought we were watching The X Factor Canadian edition.
The big surprise of the season's final performance show, besides regular check-ins with hyperventilating fans in each of the finalists' hometowns, was that each got to do a duet with an established star. This was cause for great celebration, causing host Steve Jones to say "wow" almost as many times as Steven Tyler says "beautiful" on American Idol.
Two of the special guests were Canucks: Alanis Morissette shared vocals on "Uninvited" with Josh Krajcik (above) and Avril Lavigne bopped around to "Complicated" with Chris Rene. The third guest, American singer R. Kelly, broke the streak when he performed "I Believe I Can Fly" with Melanie Amaro.
Duets between contestants and stars are a well-used device on other talent shows. American Idol finales are jam-packed with them and The Voice finalists partnered with the like of Stevie Nicks and Miranda Lambert on its season ender.
Josh Krajcik, normally supremely confident, seemed to pull some of his vocal punches after Alanis joined him and had a look on his face like "I can't believe I'm singing with Alanis Morissette."
Chris was way out of tune before Avril took the stage and the song didn't suit him much better after she joined in, but at least he looked like he was having fun.
And Melanie did not sound like she believed she could fly as she warmed up for R. Kelly, but hers was the best vocal matchup and she seemed most comfortable next to the pro.
Steve managed to curtail his gushing to ask how the stars had enjoyed working with the finalists (as if any of them were going to say it sucked). Alanis admiringly described Josh as "a very souful man"; R. Kelly said Melanie's "on her way to the moon"; and yes, Avril did say that Chris "kicked ass."
These were just the musical appetizers, though, the judges' and host's excitement notwithstanding. The real meat of the competition came in the solos as each finalist reprised their first audition songs. These were the songs that will determine who wins on Thursday night.
And despite my unwavering devotion to Josh, I have to say it looks likes Melanie nailed it. My fear is that the emotional heft of Chris reprising "Young Homie" on the very day he reached eight months' sobriety will push him into second spot ahead of Josh, whom I really would love to see win.
But this has been a season of surprises, so we won't know for sure until Thursday.
Melanie Amaro: My one reservation about Melanie has been a lack of emotional buy-in to the technically perfect vocals, but that changed big-time on Wednesday with Beyonce's "Listen." I have never felt so much passion in one of her performances. And boy, can she belt. "That wasn't a $5 million performance, that was a $50 million performance," said L.A. Reid, referring to the amount of the winner's record contract. "Based on that performance tonight, to me, you should be the winner of The X Factor," added Simon Cowell.
Josh Krajcik: If Josh does lose on Thursday, at least he'll know he went down swinging. His rendition of Etta James' "At Last," accompanying himself on guitar, was a fabulous blend of soft and tender and loud and full-throated. And win or lose, I hope he gets to make records. L.A. praised him for making the song his. "That's what stardom is all about, making it your own." Simon said playing the guitar was risky, but "what I liked about it, it was all about you, what we liked about you in the first place. This is gonna be a very, very close vote tonight."
Chris Rene: There's a lot of appeal to Chris's circumstances, the fact that he's come from life-threatening addiction to being a finalist in a contest for a life-changing recording contract. As Chris himself put it, "People like me don't get a break like that." He's the competition's worst singer and even his rapping is hit and miss, but he gave the most infectious performance of the night with "Young Homie." If votes between Josh and Melanie are as close as Simon said, it's conceivable that Chris could come right up the middle and take the prize. Simon reminded Chris of the promise he made at his first audition to stay sober if he made it onto the show. "Not only are you a man of your word, you're a brilliant performer, you are a true gentleman and a really nice guy, and I hope America gets behind you," Simon said.
So you know what the judges think and what I think. Who do you think should win based on Wednesday's show? Comment here, tweet @realityeo or visit my Facebook page.
(The photos of Josh and Alanis, Chris and Avril, and Melanie are by Ray Mickshaw for Fox.)