It all ends tomorrow, but first, the top three contestants had to shine tonight.
And, theoretically, the judges had to refrain from killing each other.
Melanie Amaro, Josh Krajcik and Chris Rene successfully managed to put all distractions—like biased knocks from the judges and the questions of whether Nicole Scherzinger is doing a good enough job judging or whether Steve Jones is a proper host—aside and make the finals of the inaugural U.S. season of The X Factor.
"It's going to be the closest final we've ever had," Simon Cowell predicted before they started singing—never mind that "we've" never had an X Factor final before...but we get what he meant.
So who gave a $5 million performance tonight?
Well, we were wondering why the heck Josh chose to sing Alanis Morissette's "Uninvited"—until Alanis herself showed up, a surprise since we were expecting the all-star duets to come on tomorrow night's finale. Maybe we've got the holiday grumps, but the guest appearance didn't really make Josh—the guy who needs the record contract—stand out.
Apparently Jagged Little Pill is L.A. Reid's "favorite album of all time," so he loved it, as did Nicole and Paula Abdul, who praised Josh for maintaining his "identity, dignity and integrity" throughout (Paula, it's not like they were shooting porn together). Simon, however, called it what it was: "an 8 out of 10."
Pop princess night continued with Chris, Avril Lavigne and "Complicated"! Speaking of which...
"'Complicated' is the antithesis of what your foundation is built on, and it's that truth that has carried you all the way," opined Paula.
"Didn't understand a word of that!" cracked Simon, who was of the opinion that Chris' duet with Avril (featuring Chris' original rap lyrics, of course) would simply make for a great record.
R. Kelly (all recovered from tonsil surgery) joined the lovely Melanie on "I Believe I Can Fly" to finish off round one with—yes—a $5 million performance. Her voice is so incredible that, while she doesn't have to win The X Factor to be a big success, it's hard to imagine her not winning.
We felt that hers was the first performance of the night in which the contestant didn't get overshadowed by the established star—but only Simon (and maybe Paula—she was hard to understand) appeared to agree with us 100 percent, reminding his protegee not to listen to "Grumpy or Dumpy over there."
Then, it was on to round two, when Josh made his presence known, at last.
No, seriously, "At Last"!
The 30-year-old burrito-slinger from Ohio did a stunning acoustic, bluesy take on the Etta James classic and just may have pocketed $5 million in the process. (Yes, it was that good.)
Chris offered up an up-to-the-minute version of his original tune, "Young Homie," which this time around included a reference to the eight months of sobriety that he successfully achieved—yesterday!
"We all have a purpose in life, and you are serving your purpose with that song," Nicole said. "You are magic!" Paula raved. Seriously, raved.
"Chris, that was your $5 million song," Simon complimented him.
Melanie—can you believe Simon cut her originally?—closed the show with about as good a job as anyone could have done, Beyoncé included, on "Listen."
"That wasn't a $5 million performance—that was a $50 million performance!" exclaimed L.A.
Based on that performance, for me, you should be the winner of The X Factor," Simon, the cat who swallowed the canary, said proudly.
But now it's up to America. A winner will be crowned tomorrow night.
Who are the people going to pick?! Who won your heart? Any surprises? Disappointments? What did you think of the duet round? Sound off in the comments section!
(Originally published Dec. 21, 2011, at 6:43 p.m. PT)