Sure, the ratings for "The X Factor" haven't necessarily scaled the heights that creator/judge Simon Cowell had initially promised and hoped for. But by the time the giant flashing curtain falls on the show at the end of Wednesday night's (December 21) performance finale, viewers will have tuned in to one of the most unpredictable finales in recent reality-singing show history.
The three finalists could not be more different, and if you haven't tuned in before now, what you've missed is nothing less than a master class in building the public persona and marketability of a potential singing star.
While Paula Abdul's groups didn't last long on the show, the other three judges are still represented in the finale, with each having taken a very different path to Wednesday's penultimate show. Record executive L.A. Reid has perhaps done the most impressive job building up his contestant, Chris Rene, into a post-millennial everyman.
Rene arrived with one of the most compelling backstories of the season. The 28-year-old Santa Cruz, California, singer/songwriter emerged from auditions with the kind of hard-luck tale that you never hear on these kinds of shows. Fresh from rehab and newly sober after years of struggles with crystal meth addiction, Rene — with his heavily tattooed arms and bad-boy pin-up looks — quickly proved to be that rare hybrid rapper/singer who can carry a sweet melody while writing his own hook-filled rhymes.
Plus, Rene did something else audiences almost never see: He played an original, the soulful folk/rap hybrid "Young Homie," during his audition round, which brought the audience, and the judges, to their feet.
As the weeks went on, trash collector Rene continued to show his versatility, last week pulling out a guitar and playing his second original song this season ("Where Do We Go From Here") and unwinding his colorful background during Michael Jackson week as the grandson of Leon Rene, who wrote the Jackson 5 hit "Rockin' Robin." And when he revealed this week that he was still using as his father died of cancer and that his dad's final request was to make him proud, Rene likely melted more hearts across the country.
Nicole Scherzinger is represented by wooly bear of a man Josh Krajcik, the 30-year-old Columbus, Ohio, singer whose story line has mainly focused on his determination to not return to his old job rolling burritos. Krajcik, whose powerful, gravelly soul delivery is reminiscent of a young Michael Bolton/ Joe Cocker, has logged many years performing his original songs and covers in Ohio bars with the Josh Krajcik Band, with whom he's released two albums of original songs.
Unlike Rene, though, with the exception of playing piano and guitar on the show, Krajcik has not emphasized his musical chops. Instead, with a few deviations (including a Rihanna song that kind of went sideways on him), he's covered a variety of songs that are staples on singing competitions, including Etta James' "At Last," the Cocker version of the Beatles' "With a Little Help From My Friends" and the ubiquitous "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen.
The serious, humble Krajcik appears less appealing to a pop audience, as he's not adept at dancing and is unlikely to have the marketability of a more contemporary singer. His voice, though, is undeniable and fans appear to enjoy hunting out the generous amount of his original material available on the Internet. Plus, as "American Idol" has proven several seasons in a row, America loves a middle-of-the-road Midwestern/Southern dude.
Cowell's lone remaining female contestant, 19-year-old Florida-by-way-of-the-British-Virgin-Islands belter Melanie Amaro came pre-loaded with a crazy story. You see, despite having one of the strongest voices in the competition from the first time she auditioned, Cowell decided after the judge's home rounds to let her go in favor of some of his other favorites.
But in a scene nobody who has followed the almost pathologically self-confident career of Cowell could have predicted, the former "American Idol" judge did an about-face the next week and admitted a mistake and begged Amaro to return. She's never looked back since, crushing just about any song thrown her way, from the Eagles' "Desperado" to Jackson's "Man in the Mirror" and Adele's "Someone Like You."
Yes, she's a diva, but she doesn't act like one, and like her fellow finalists, she's never been in the bottom three.
Which one will emerge victorious and win the much-vaunted $5 million prize? It's your choice now, America.
Who do you think will win "The X Factor?" Let us know in comments below.