"There is no second place prize," Josh Krajcik explains to those of us who don't know how finales work. Boom, for the grand close of The X Factor, we're in familiar territory from the start. Steve Jones, who reportedly may not becoming back for season two ("Nooooo!" –you), lets us know how it's all going to play out. The contestants will sing one song in a superstar duet, and then another song that they've already performed on the show. “The acts will sing two times – two songs for five million dollars. It’s as simple as that!” Um, if it were as simple as that, Steve, then what Russian novel-dense compendium of betrayal and one-upsmanship have I been chronicling for almost three months?
Nicole Scherzinger emerges with her hair up, trying to pull off the Janelle Monáe look that Rachel Crow favored toward the end. It is as if by booting Rachel off the show, Nicole absorbed a piece of her soul, which she wears in her hair like a totem of a conquered foe.
Josh is up first, singing in what appears to be The Addams Family's frozen forest of dark delights. His performance of "Uninvited" with guest Alanis Morissette teaches me three things: 1) Alanis has still got it, 2) "Uninvited" is underrated, and 3) I'm so sorry, Josh Krajcik and Alanis Morissette, but your voices don't quite mesh and this song only works okay, rather than like gangbusters, as it should. LA Reid starts off his critique by saying, “It was surreal," which seems like he didn't like it, but he actually did. In fact, Reid claims that Josh seemed right at home up there, and that his favorite album of all time is Jagged Little Pill, which explains so little. Can you actually picture LA cleaning his house to that album? (Also worth noting: "Uninvited" was on the City of Angels soundtrack, not that record.) Simon Cowell thought Josh was a little intimidated at the beginning but improved as the song went on, which seems exactly backwards to me, but whatever.
Just like last week, after the performances, Steve cuts to a satellite feed of the contestants' hometowns. Josh Kracjik’s grandmother offers words of support that seem coerced, as though someone were just off camera offering discount medication from Canada if she "gives good TV."
Next, performing on what I call the Tron Stage, Chris Rene sings the first verse of Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated” before the lady herself joins him. Black and green strobe lights beam across the two diametrically opposite performers as Avril completely smothers Chris, even when he's rapping and she's just sort of standing there. In what is starting to sound like a refrain, L.A. tells Chris he looked "really at home" with Avril, which Chris probably took that to mean that he and Avril should join together as man and wife. Go get her, Chris Rene! Nicole calls the performance “a little shaky in the takeoff," but assures Chris that he came out on top. Paula has a lot to say about Chris' energy, and Cowell likewise champions "his total joy and confidence." Not much is said about dude's voice.
"Ladies and gentlemen – I can't believe I'm gonna say this – please help me welcome R. Kelly," Melanie Amaro says, halfway through "I Believe I Can Fly." Kells looks dapper as all get-out in a ridiculously long scarf and black glasses. He belts the hell out of his final note, but Melanie actually, truly does sound right at home dueting with the guy. After the performance, R. Kelly himself says, "There's no doubt in my mind: this girl is on her way to the moon." And he would know – R. Kelly is the mayor of the moon. "That is one of the most important songs ever written, so you’re lucky to sing that with him," LA says, almost menacingly. "It was great, but I expect more from you.” Is it just me, or does he never quite get what he expects from Melanie? After Paula concurs – hilariously calling it one of the most "prolific" songs ever – Simon unveils his latest set of rhyming nicknames, christening LA and Paula "Grumpy" and "Dumpy." Steve lets us know that this was the first time Kelly has sung the song as a duet, in case any Moneyball-types are keeping stats.
Josh's second song is a stripped-down version of Etta James's "At Last," performed at the top of a giant, flashing staircase. His crazy eyes from the other week are back, Ozzy-style, and how! Afterward, LA Reid says, “You are such a rock star.” Cowell confirms, "This will be a very tough decision,” which I think translates to, "You are going to make it slightly sad to give this to Melanie, although we are definitely giving it to Melanie." Scherzinger is typically bonkers: “I’m honored to be a part of this journey with you. Music believes in you.” Cutting to Josh’s Ohio hometown, the mayor himself announces that he just proclaimed this "Josh Kracjik Day," which may come back to haunt him in election season after Krajcik doesn't win.
Perhaps it was inevitable that Chris Rene would go back to the "Young Homie" well a third time. It's a very good well, in some respects! Blinding white geometric shapes fly out at us and so many enthusiastic backup dancers whirl as Chris runs around the stage, hyping the judges up. LA really, really likes this song. Why doesn't he marry it, I wonder? Last week, Nicole decided that "Feeling Good" was Melanie's freedom anthem, and now she declares "Young Homie" is Chris' "belief anthem." I'm beginning to suspect that all of the Pussycat Dolls had separate types of anthems that formed together like Voltron to help them combat evil and choppy bangs. "I hope America gets behind you," Simon says. "I really, really do." Except you know he doesn't.
After an opening sequence that highlights how she used to get teased when she was growing up, Melanie closes out the show. Her song is Beyoncé's "Listen," and we have no choice but to listen because the girl is a total force here. Dressed as a sparkly showgirl with a blazer on top, drenched in white smoke, she sings her heart out and is met with universal acclaim. "That wasn't a $5 million song," LA says. (Wait for it.) "That was a $50 million song!" (There we go.) Simon has a genuinely touching moment next, saying, “I am so, so proud of what you just did. You’re never going to get teased again, and I think you should be the winner.” Were I betting man, I might put money on it.
The mayor of Sunrise, Florida, weighs in too, finally, confirming that Melanie is a superstar. Even though I somewhat agree, I don't like these guys acting like they've been elected mayor of my ears. Put a sock in it, mayors!
Predictions for tonight: It seems heavily favored toward Melanie, but will there be an upset?
Last episode: Marcus Canty Bites the Dust