Nice Hits! is on a short break for Christmas, but since I'm always game to debate pop music, let's talk The X Factor finale. Last night, the final three contestants--burly burrito maker Josh Krajcik, undercover Virgin Islander Melanie Amaro, and recovering addict Chris Rene--performed their last songs, one duet with a famous musician and one solo revisiting the first song they auditioned with. Tonight, the winner of the $5 million dollar record contract will be revealed. So who's going to win?
I'm taking Krajcik out of the running right off the bat. He seems like a genuinely warm and likable person, a determined guy and a hard worker, but after the way he was visibly intimated by his duet of "Uninvited" with Alanis Morrissette and then played a nice but forgettable version of Etta James' "At Last," I think it's game over for him. On talent shows like this, you can't just be good, you have to be better than everyone else. Krajcik isn't--good musician, not enough star quality.
Amaro's duet with R. Kelly was almost as awkward as Krajcik's with Morrissette. They sang "I Believe I Can Fly," which was a terrible fit for Amaro's vocal range. My favorite part of this performance comes at around 2:14, when Kelly, who looks to be getting a little chunky but still sounds absolutely amazing, just goes off on this huge vocal run like he's the one competing for a prize. Amaro got completely overshadowed by him. However, she later made up for it with her solo performance of Beyonce's "Listen." When Amaro performed this at her opening audition a few months ago, it brought me to tears, and her performance last night was equally powerful. She's got a stunning voice, there's no question about that. But she's exhibited little that separates her from a Leona Lewis or a Jennifer Hudson. She seems to lack the personality and unique character of her main threat, Chris Rene.
Rene's pairing with Avril Lavigne for their duet of "Complicated" made the most sense--they looked like they could be friends, so it didn't come off as forced. But only part of that can be attributed to luck. Rene, who looks a little like Channing Tatum and sounds a little like Mike Posner, has got an overwhelming positive energy that bursts through on stage. He doesn't even have to put that much effort into connecting with the audience--his smiles and his tears are real. Rene's performance of his original composition, "Young Homie," was a joy to watch. He worked the stage and the audience, a performance element that both Krajcik and Amaro ignored, and he consequently made it look more fun and easier than either of them did. The guy's already a star. He's already written a hit song. Rene's the kind of musician that these TV shows should be looking for. With very few exceptions, it's almost become a given that the American Idol winners will quickly disappear into either the adult contemporary charts, or obscurity. Taylor Hicks, anyone? Rene has all the makings of a modern pop star. The X Factor could set a fresh new standard by crowning a winner like him.