The first U.S. season of The X Factor may not have been the world-conquering smash its creator promised, but Simon Cowell’s already healthy self-esteem is no doubt at new heights this morning. His singer won.
19-year-old Floridian Melanie Amaro was named the first season champion Thursday, taking home the show’s $5 million first prize, and a recording contract that may or may not amount to much (the glut of music competition winners seems to be making it harder and harder for everyone who comes after). She defeated rumpled Ohio burrito maker Josh Krajcik, while singer-songwriter Chris Rene came in third.
In keeping with the general philosophy of the show, which holds that it’s as much a competition for the already rich and famous mentors as it is for the unknown singers, both Amaro and Krajcik were joined onstage by their respective mentors, Cowell and Nicole Scherzinger, for the announcement of the winner. Simon did not always fare well on The X Factor back in Britain, but the biggest star produced by that show was one that he mentored, Leona Lewis, and it was apparent from the early stages of this season that he believed Melanie had similar potential – even though he did his best to create an underdog story for her by first cutting her from the final 16, then “bending the rules” to bring her back as the 17th finalist.
Rene might actually have the best chance of building a career in the current pop environment, as he writes for himself and has a vibe (if not quite a voice) that’s reminiscent of Bruno Mars (Krajcik, for all his passion and likability, isn’t especially commercial and probably won’t ever get out of Ohio). But Amaro will get the big push initially. Her primary performance mode on The X Factor was to stand still and belt diva classics like Mariah Carey’s “Hero,” but while Simon has always had a weakness for female big ballad singers, that’s not the music that sells in 2011. Can she branch out and make great dance-pop records like the singer she physically resembles, Beyonce?
Despite individual moments of weirdness that exceeded anything we’ve seen on American Idol in recent years, most notably the tearful elimination of Rachel Crow and Brian “Astro” Bradley having a hissyfit when he was put in the bottom two, there was something about this season that just didn’t work. Certainly the constant hype and bombast was wearying, and the fighting amongst the mentors was boring and pointless – after 10 years of selling dreams on Idol, you’re never going to get the American viewing public to care as much about the judges as about the young singers, and the sooner Simon realizes that, the better.
But there was a fairly impressive level of talent – amazing we’ve yet to come close to running out – and in the person of Astro, even a somewhat believable hip-hopper, something Idol has yet to offer. If Amaro can become a real star, that will give The X Factor a significant boost heading in 2012.