The X Factor Top 3 Performance Finale Recap: It's All Just a Little Bit of History Repeating

The voting portion of The X Factor‘s inaugural season ended not with a bang, but with some poorly conceived duets, repeat performances of the Top 3 contestants’ audition songs, weeping children, screaming mayors, a startling new twist in the sordid tale of Nicole Scallywag’s weave that we will never mention again, and the sad sight of an empty suit enthusiastically crossing its sleeves into an X formation — its sole remaining means of transmitting “personality.”

Even Simon Cowell struggled in the hype department, noting that the Josh Krajcik-Chris Rene-Melanie Amaro showdown would likely be “the closest final we’ve ever had.” (Um, dude, it’s the only final you’ve ever had — at least in this country.)

We also got glimpses of the contestants’ most rabid fans shot via sattelite from their natural habitats: Josh’s old high school in Ohio (because he’s a hard-workin’ everyman); a nightclub where Chris used to perform (edgy!); and Melanie’s enormous church (because God has personally ordained her victory, and her subsquent indentured servitude to Pepsi).

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But in spite of the production’s failures, there’s no denying the Season 1 Top 3 are a talented bunch, even if you’ll never convince me that their performance order was determined by random drawing of lots. (OK, sure, maybe lots were drawn…under Simon Cowell’s careful supervision. “Josh, you’re walking the plank first. Chris will obviously go second. Melanie gets the Pimp Slot! Bloody fantastic!”)

Anyhow, let’s review the proceedings, while also making a pact never to use Steve Jones’ pre-approved Twitter hashtag “#NoPointsForSecond.” (Stop trying to make those catchphrases happen, Steve. They’re not going to happen.)

Josh Krajcik (with Alanis Morissette): “Uninvited”
My inner conspiracy theorist wonders if the show’s producers selected this particular track to let Josh know he was not, in fact, invited to take home the Season 1 crown and that $5 million prize. Sure, it wasn’t like they made him sing “Don’t Cha” while flanked by the Pussycat Dolls — though I bet Nicole would’ve blithely agreed to it — but the verse was pitched too low for Josh’s comfort zone, making his vocals sound wobbly and tentative. Even worse, the moody, rambling melody left no room for the last of the “over 30s” to show off his soulful, bluesy side. I will admit that the spooky “Tim Burton Forest” background was visually stunning, but you’d think that after three months of mentoring, Nicole might’ve made some meager attempt to unscraggle Josh’s “dude in a local blues bar” presentation, no?

Chris Rene (with Avril Lavigne): “Complicated”
If the Josh-Alanis duet seemed a little random, the Chris-Avril pairing made as much sense as a chocolate-caramel trout. There was Avril, adopting a Billie Joe Armstrong accent and slouching about the stage with a “hey, whatever, I’ll just get up here and have some fun and hope that a few thousand people get inspired to stuff a stocking with one of my CDs” attitude. And there was Chris, um, well…I can’t say he was exactly singing. It was more like bouncing around and providing some gasping background noise while showing off his shiny new leather jacket, white shirt, and gray fedora. “The moment you’ve been waiting for,” Chris lied, “Avril Lavigne!” And the judges threw truth out the window, too. Nicole briefly considered doing her job — “it was a little shaky in the takeoff” — but then the audience booed her, and so she changed course and smiled pretty and told Chris that he “came out on top.” (How much is she getting paid for this gig?) Simon and L.A. then picked up the mantle of delusion, telling Chris that the tragic audio feed of the collaboration could be a No. 1 hit. Not unless it’s released by “Avril Lavigne featuring Chris Rene and Auto-Tune.”

Melanie Amaro (with R. Kelly): “I Can’t Believe They Picked This Flippin’ Awful SongI Can Fly”
Completing the trifecta of dubious duets, we had Melanie — in a copper chainmail and black satin gown that helped her cleavage attain new heights, and standing against a background of (ugh) soaring bird figures — performing what L.A. Reid described as “one of the most important songs written in the last 50 years.” In addition to revealing that there are some keys that can make Melanie’s flawless voice sound flat and quavery, this also proved L.A. is one of the following: A) completely insane; B) utterly void of good taste; or C) willing to say anything to fit into The X Factor‘s predetermined narrative. Nicole made a good point that Melanie did what she could performing the song in R. Kelly’s preferred key, and that she really did shine on the ad-libs, but let’s be honest: Would even Melanie’s biggest fans want to rewind the DVR and watch this again? (Another question: Did I get through this paragraph without talking about the man who had a hit single called “Thoia Thong” aggressively waving Melanie’s hand in the air while turning “fly” into a 27-syllable word?)

As a palate cleanser before Round 2, we were “treated” to the Top 3 providing barely audible backing vocals to a track of Michael Jackson’s “They Don’t Care About Us,” all the while being upstaged by a bunch of musclebound robots (not Steve Jones) who danced and pranced and flashed dollar signs, question marks, and peace symbols on their chests. Here’s something you might want to discuss around the Holidee Table: Was the song a social commentary on corporate greed and the destruction of the middle class in America? Or was it a winking acknowledgement that The X Factor is more beholden to the estate of Michael Jackson than it is to its own viewers? (Ding ding ding!) Anyhow, back to the performances that counted for something…

Josh Krajcik: Etta James’ “At Last”
Even if Josh is headed for third place — a total inevitability — it was one of the true pleasures of the X Factor season to watch the burly Ohio native break free of Nicole’s often maddening mentorship and get back to the stripped-down rock-soul vibe at which he excels. I can’t pretend I wasn’t disappointed that the Top 3 repeated their audition tracks — after three months of “boot camp” and “mentoring” and “artistic growth,” the producers basically had them start at the very beginning? — but at least Josh put a new spin on his number. Turning “At Last” into an acoustic-driven ballad put his explosive vocals front-and-center, and drove home the message that Josh doesn’t need Swaybots or backup dancers or a wall of lights and sound to capture our imaginations. And in the long run, getting that message across on the national stage — at laaaaast — might be worth more than a $5 million contract and a Pepsi commercial.

Chris Rene: “Young Homie”
If L.A. Reid had really wanted Chris to have “A Moment Like This” moment — and provided the producers would’ve allowed contestants to perform something other than a repeat of their auditions — he’d have let the Season 1 “dark horse” break out another original track that hadn’t already been performed twice before on The X Factor stage. But based on its own merits, Chris’ third performance of “Young Homie” was a jubilant — and well-sung — affair. Flanked by a team of dancers and set in front of a backdrop of black-and-white geometric images, Chris worked the stage with the magnetism and energy of a seasoned vet. Not even Simon could mute his praise, telling Chris “that was your $5 million song” and adding that he hoped America got behind the contestant who just marked his eighth month of sobriety. Paula, with her typical restraint, wept openly, squealing “You make everyone fall in love with you and I’m going to stalk you to the ends of the earth and the end of time!”

Melanie Amaro: Beyoncé’s “Listen”
When Melanie is “on,” it’s hard to describe the breadth and power of her voice. It kind of reminds me of that scene in Independence Day, where the gigantic spaceship casts its massive shadow over the entirety of Manhattan. Similarly, Melanie’s performance of “Listen” — a mesmerizing blast of glory notes, vocal swoops, oustretched arms, hair extensions, and diva inspiration — overshadowed everything that came before it and everything that came after it, too. I barely remember the judges’ critiques or anything that followed Melanie’s final note — I think there was a child crying, a guy from Melanie’s church (maybe the mayor of Sunrise, FL?) testifying, and Nicole talking about how she doesn’t feel alone anymore (wait till she’s replaced by Cheryl Cole in Season 2).

But who cares about those details? Just like Kelly Clarkson planted her flag into Season 1 of American Idol by ripping the lid off “A Moment Like This,” so too did Melanie scorch the X Factor battlefield with “Listen.” L.A. declared it a “$50 million” performance — I don’t think he does his own accounting, but I digress — and Simon said what he’d wanted to say ever since the audition rounds: “You, for me, should be the winner of The X Factor.” Let’s just hope that before Thursday night’s finale, Melanie’s mentor teaches her the fine art of hitting a glory note beneath a tidal wave of confetti.

What did you think of the X Factor performance finale? Who do you think deserves the Season 1 crown? Hit the comments to discuss, and for all my X Factor news, reviews, and interviews, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!