By Craig Berman, TODAY.com contributor
Michael Becker / FOX
Melanie Amaro was crowned the first "X Factor" champ on Thursday night.
Melanie Amaro was crowned the winner of ?X Factor? on Thursday, surprising almost nobody and completing the journey that nearly ended before it began.
Amaro famously wasn?t one of judge Simon Cowell?s original four female finalists, but got called back into the competition when he either changed his mind or decided that the charade had gone on long enough, depending on how cynical you are. Once she got that second chance, she immediately became the favorite among the women, sailing through the competition and earning the $5 million recording contract.
She fell to her knees in prayer after hearing the news, overwhelmed enough to resist host Steve Jones? numerous attempts to get something resembling a sound bite out of her. She choked up several times during her show-closing number, but presumably will recover in time to record what everyone at Fox hopes?will be?a monster album that sells millions of downloads.
Josh Krajcik, the former burrito maker and champion of the 30-somethings, came in second, with Chris Rene having been eliminated earlier in the evening as the third-place finisher.
The result capped an evening that was more of a holiday special than a coronation. The three finalists all sang Christmas tunes, as did Justin Bieber in a duet with Stevie Wonder. Bieber than sang a few notes with Drew, the teenager eliminated earlier in the competition who auditioned with Bieber?s ?Baby? and seemed as overwhelmed by the opportunity as any girl her age would.
?She is a very special girl and she will go far,? Bieber said, though he did not indicate that he was prepared to fulfill Drew?s fantasy of a date with him at the beach.
The show also featured the snippets of interviews with friends and family members that tug at the heartstrings and are a staple of all reality competitions, or so it seems.
?We used to complain about you singing all the time, and now look at you singing in front of millions of people,? Amaro?s brothers said.
?I?m not really surprised we?re here right now. I want you to know that I love you so much, and I don?t think I say that enough,? said Krajcik?s daughter.
The night also saw the rivalry between Simon and judge?L.A. Reid depicted as a battle of heavyweights, while judges Nicole Scherzinger and Paula Adbul had the ?Cry-Off? clip show instead. This concept was brought to you by the 1950s, which wants its gender roles back.
Rachel Crow made her return, two weeks after her elimination in what was called the most shocking moment of the season. She didn?t seem to have any lingering scars from that experience.
?I?m gonna steal your job,? she told Steve.
It was a tough night for the host in general, who was often stymied in his attempts to talk with the contestants and had Nicole whiff on a punchline several times before he finally threw up his hands and gave up.
Other acts included 50 Cent, who tested the Fox censors and was accompanied by some of the less-heralded members of the Los Angeles Lakers, as well as Ne-Yo and Pitbull. Also singing was Leona Lewis, who won the British version of the show and is what the folks at Fox are desperately hoping that Amaro becomes. That, as much as anything else, will determine whether this becomes the next ?American Idol? or just one of the countless shows stuck in its wake.
Did the right contestant win?
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