Pumped up to the maximum intensity—with an extra level of intrigue added by the judges doubling as mentors, meaning they have skin in the game—Simon Cowell’s “X Factor” has taken the well-worn “Idol” formula and juiced it up with steroids, testosterone, ego and, not coincidentally, a $5 million first prize.
And while every “Idol” winner since Jordin Sparks in Season 6 four years ago has been a white guy with a guitar, “The X Factor” is turning into an “Urban American Idol,” with three of the four finalists of various ethnic persuasions—British Virgin Islands-born Melanie Amaro, hybrid Chris Rene and African-American Marcus Canty–leaving Josh Krajcik as the lone representative for the white American heartland. And that’s probably why longtime “Idol” watcher Shirley Halperin has dubbed him her favorite to go all the way.
On the other hand, both the blogosphere and Las Vegas betting sites have made clear-voiced Amaro the odds-on pick to win the crows this week, which she has been since shocking everyone by reverting to an island patois and feisty manner that clearly provided separation from the pack. Ever since Cowell dramatically visited her home in southern Florida, to rescind his decision to send her home and invite her back, Melanie’s been on a major roll, with a voice that is clearly the best of those remaining.
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But is that enough to secure her victory? Unlike “Idol,” “The X Factor” is not about the purity of the pipes, but that hard-to-finger ingredient that makes one a star. Amaro proved she had a flair for the dramatic with her bold breakthrough, but her singing performances have generally suffered from the “Pia Toscano” syndrome which sent that talented singer home on last year’s “Idol”—a penchant for safe Whitney/Mariah type ballads, best exemplified by Amaro’s performance last week of “When You Believe,” a song originally sung by Houston and Carey.
There is also the added ingredient of Melanie being Simon Cowell’s last hope to win his own show. For the last two weeks, Nicole has sent his candidates home—first with young Drew and then last week with Rachel Crow, ostensibly so the panel would tie and force the decision to go to viewer voting. Nicole took a lot of heat for not being brave enough to make a decision—and she broke down in the process—but the end result was, she crewed Simon two weeks in a row, ostensibly paying him back for his arrogance towards both her and Paula.
Next up is Chris Rene, the blue-eyed hip-hop, soul and R&B guy who was one of the first contestants to catch our ear with an original song, “Young HOMIE,” that captured the fancy of his mentor L.A. Reid, in particular. Last week, he pulled out another original, “Where Do We Go From Here?’, playing it along on acoustic guitar, which Simon said could’ve been stupid or a stroke of genius, finally admitting it was the latter. He’s a unique talent that could probably be molded by L.A. Reid’s Epic Records into a Bruno Mars-styled pop-R&B star. We wouldn’t count him out.
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Likable Marcus Canty has taken the most fraught journey to the Final Four, finishing in the bottom two for three straight times. When Steve Jones announced last week that Rachel Crow received the fewest amount of votes after their respective “Save Me” songs, Canty seemed more relieved than happy. As Paula has put it, Canty is by far the most multi-talented of the remaining contestants, with an old-fashioned song-and-dance man quality that has his mentor L.A. Reid likening him to a cross between Bobby Brown and Usher, with a dash of Al Green thrown in for good measure. A nice mama’s boy given a timetable to make it in the music business or get serious about a career, Canty is one of two L.A. Reid candidates left, which means the venerable record industry exec has been kicking Simon Cowell’s butt… so far.
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Nicole’s remaining contestant, the 30-year-old burrito barrister from Columbus, OH, Krajcik remains the wild card. If “X Factor” voters are like “Idol” voters, you can’t discount the yahoo factor that elevated Taylor Hicks to a victory several years ago. The other question is, would you pay $5 million to a 30-year-old rock journeyman, even if he was the Andrea Bocelli of soul? It’s a tough call, but we don’t think Josh will pull it off.
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And as we come down to the home stretch, there’s probably one thing Simon Cowell hadn’t counted on. His remaining contestant’s fortune now depends on the two women he’s dubbed, “Squiddley” and “Diddley.”
FINAL WEEK POWER RANKINGS
1. MELANIE AMARO: Still the one, but she’s gotta cool it with the patois. What sounded so delightfully natural, is starting to come off as an affectation.
2. CHRIS RENE: The little girls get this guy. They want to mother him, and he is the most original of what’s left. He’s one show-stopping performance away from the big prize.
3. JOSH KRAJCIK: As the only rocker left in the competition, his run is based on a referendum on what was once this country’s dominant pop musical form? Is it still?
4. MARCUS CANTY: He’s a dangerous dark horse, for sure, capable of a well-timed back-flip to victory, but finishing in the bottom two for three weeks in a row, his luck has to run out at some point.