You gotta hand it to “The X Factor.” It wasn’t their idea to treat a singing competition like an athletic contest—that’s “Idol”—but Simon Cowell did manage to turn it into the Super Bowl.
Even I had the telltale signs—rapid heartbeat, sweaty palms, fidgety—that I had built up an identification with these four finalists, so much so that those left standing came off as multi-ethnic members of a new Fab Four—island gal Melanie Amaro, rehabbed blue-eyed hip-hopper Chris Rene, large-hearted Midwest rocker Josh Krajcik and singing, dancing fool Marcus Canty.
Still, we had to wade through 55 minutes of back story, recaps, and a couple of performances to get to the final result—one by Florence + the Machine, the other by Nicole Scherzinger herself, that might not have been enough for either to get to the finals. Fellow judge Simon Cowell, when asked what he thought of the latter, deadpanned his way through some blathering doggerel, with a look on his face which said, “That was bloody awful.” And it was, but it did serve to keep up the tension in a most uncomfortable way.
What came across in the Final Four was the stylistic bases covered along the way—from classic diva warbling (Amaro) and church-based gospel soul (Canty) to blue-eyed a capella street corner vamping (Rene) and stolid classic-rock bravado and vulnerability (Krajcik).
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As Paula, all of people put it, each brings something to the table that the other doesn’t, which makes the final choice that much more difficult. At this point, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see any one of the three remaining walk away with this thing.
The first two allowed to go through—in no particular order, according to Steve Jones, perhaps the most wooden host since Ed Sullivan—were… ta-da… Chris Rene and Melanie Amaro. Just to reiterate, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Marcus Canty and Josh Krajcik, who remain, had the lowest number of votes, just to make that straight. Though Canty has been forced to go to the “Save Me” song, dodging a bullet three straight times, thereby gaining his reputation as someone who could pick himself off the floor and emerge victorious.
Milking the suspense, we see a positively giddy Chris Rene and Melanie Amaro backstage, as Marcus and Josh await their verdict. Jones paused for an eternity, and announces the contestant who’ll be moving on is…. Josh Krajcik.
That means the fourth time didn’t prove the charm for Canty, the affable, likable kid who was mowing lawns while his mom’s deadline for a show business career was just about up when he auditioned for the show, and proceeded to wow the judges.
He went out like he competed, with a big smile on his face and an aw-shucks hunch in his gait. “He hasn’t once sulked or complained,” marveled Cowell, who admired his pluck. L.A. said from the start he reminded him of a cross between Usher and Bobby Brown, and he maintained that to the end. “I’m connected to Marcus. I think you’re a major star and a great singer. You have my support.”
Canty uttered the same sentiments numerous other late-round finalists in shows like “American Idol” and “The X Factor” have done, vowing, “This is not the last time you’ll see Marcus Canty. I gave it my all, and at the end of the day, that’s all you can do.”
And he did it. Canty was a throwback to the all-around entertainer days of someone like Sammy Davis Jr., and Michael Jackson, too, and he may have a better pure voice than either. Now whether he can put all those elements together in a single package becomes the question. If he can, there is always room for a ladies’man soul singer in the business—even one as lovingly retro as Marcus.
Now for what comes next. I still think this is Melanie Amaro’s contest to lose—and I wouldn’t put a possible meltdown past her. She is very impulsive, as one can see from her sudden adoption mid-contest of her British Virgin Island roots. So far, the patois has been charming, but will it be enough to compete against two guys who simply exude honesty and down-to-earth authenticity?
Given that Amaro stays the course, do either Rene or Krajcik have a chance? I disagree with my esteemed colleague Shirley Halperin about Josh’s chances. He is the only pure white in the competition, but electing Barack Obama sorta dispelled that old bugaboo. In fact, the contestant who I feel has the best shot at short-circuiting Amaro’s Leona Lewis-like road to the $5 million is Chris Rene, product of his own rainbow coalition, and compelling back story.
To me, it’s a toss-up. All three remaining contestants have legitimate claims on the grand prize, and that grand prize is what gives The X Factor its goosebump-inducing edge over its chief competitor, Idol. That $5 million is a game-changer. Not that winning “Idol” isn’t, but you’re a lot more secure with the cash than you would be with a career as a recording artist. Especially these days. In fact, if I were the winner of “X Factor,” I’d just ask for the check, and forget about making an album and all the rest of it. But that’s just me.
POWER RANKINGS: POWER TRIO
1. MELANIE AMARO: She’s gotten this far, can she complete the race in first place? Unless she does something extremely stupid, I say yes.
2. CHRIS RENE: He made the first impression, and he could just make the last, with an inspirational story he has been savvy enough to milk with his feel-good music.
3. JOSH KRAJCIK: The big dude is capable of a late-round knockout punch, but I just don’t see it. Still, it wouldn’t make me too unhappy to see him go mano-a-mano with Amaro. Now that’s a heavyweight fight.