It's finale week at "The X Factor," and for the first time all season, rehearsals went late. Like, really late. Like, "I guess I'm not watching 'Conan' tonight" late.
But nobody's complaining. Each contestant is performing three songs Wednesday night (December 21), and the final three singers are eager to get as much practice as possible. Between the competition and the massive surprise-filled two-night finale, you will not find Chris Rene, Melanie Amaro or Josh Krajcik without headphones on, lyric sheets out, stress lines on their foreheads.
Part of the added pressure is that the producers are making the top three prep a "top two" duet. But because the results are unknown, every potential top-two configuration is being rehearsed. By the end of Monday's epic rehearsals, everyone was sick of the duet song.
Despite the high stakes, a moment of levity will enter Stage 36 every now and then. On Tuesday, the background singers presented Chris Rene with a holiday-themed rewrite of his original "Young Homie." (Think "Young homie, what you eatin' on?" and swap out lyrics about sobriety with verses about greens and cornbread.)
Speaking of the holidays, the top three will be getting viewers in the mood to celebrate with some familiar tunes, although one contestant who shall remain nameless couldn't quite grasp the lyrics or the melody of a song everyone knows, which drove their mentor to bark, "That's not a $5 million rehearsal." Bah humbug!
Judge Simon Cowell told the press Monday that he switched one of Amaro's songs because it was "too British." I can't reveal what the song was, but I can say it would have been a very unexpected choice for the resident diva. (On the original recording, there's an extended flute solo. There, I've said too much.) Cowell ultimately decided it was too risky. Will his picks get criticized for being "too safe"?
Spotted: Krajcik in a crew headset carrying equipment backstage. What a hands-on dude! (Turns out, he was just shooting a silly video for the wrap party.)
Behind the scenes, the crew is buzzing about how unpredictable Thursday night's results will be. From the stage hands to the talent handlers, everyone shrugs when asked, "Who do you think will win?" Unlike other talent shows they've worked on, everyone agrees this might be the first finale in a long while where the winner is not clearly telegraphed.
One thing is official: The top three are being treated like celebrities. How do I know? They finally have their own stand-ins for results rehearsals! All season long, only the judges have had stand-ins, but this week, the crew also worked with faux-Melanie, faux-Josh and faux-Chris. Personally, I wish the stand-ins resembled the contestants more, but I suppose it's also fun to imagine Krajcik as a 6'4" dude with a buzzed head.
And now, I'll end my final backstage report with a tidbit from the files of my favorite: craft service! As a thank you to the crew, "The X Factor" producers treated the staff to a massive steak lunch, big enough for a Flintstones family reunion. It gave the final week in "X"-land a very "end of summer camp" vibe. Lots of hugs, lots of email addresses being exchanged, and then there was Cowell himself, who told me off-camera that this is the first series he's worked on in a while where he hasn't burned out by the finale. "I'm a little sad the season is ending," he said.
You and me both, Simon.
Off you go, "The X Factor." Until next fall ...
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