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The X Factor Recap: Five Million Dollars’ Worth of Integrity

THE X FACTOR: Top 3 Perform: Avril Lavigne (L) and Chris Rene perform on THE X FACTOR Dec. 21 (8:00-9:30 PM ET/PT) on FOX. THE X FACTOR Finale airs Wed., Dec. 21 and Thurs., Dec. 22 on FOX. CR: Ray Mickshaw / FOX.

It’s the FINALS! Steve Jones promises surprises, and I believe him, because I’m 98 percent sure they've made this entire season up as they went along.

Our obligatory intro package tells us what we already know about our three finalists, almost in haiku form. Josh: humble, burritos. Melanie: went home, accent, teased. Chris: meth. May I speak for you when I say we are completely clear on all of this? Thank you.

And tonight we’ll be coming live from the finalists’ hometowns, where their fans have gathered to watch en masse: Josh’s pep rally is in his old high school, Chris’s is at the nightclub where he used to perform, and Melanie’s is at her South Florida megachurch. Tell me that doesn’t sum them up perfectly. Simon promises that this will be “the closest final in X Factor history,” which is difficult to dispute because this is the first season.

Josh is up first, performing his rendition of Alanis Morrisette’s “Uninvited” in front of a spooky forest backdrop. Chilling! It’s a limp song, but it showcases his vocals well enough. And he keeps the lyric wherein he is referred to as “a warm-blooded woman!” What a loosey-goosey attitude we have about gender in this post-Chaz Bono world! And then: “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but here’s Alanis Morrisette!” The Edward Gorey trees part to reveal the actual Alanis, and they perform the rest of the song as a duet, choosing to end this version on the electrifying lyric “I need some time to deliberate.” Their voices blend well, but I can’t resist wondering what they might have done with a “Hand in My Pocket,” or even a “Head Over Feet.” Alanis looks great, by the way. I call her look “Pottery Teacher on the Town.”

The judges are reserved: LA likes it, Paula says “You kept your integrity, which is worth five million dollars,” which is just untrue on its face. Simon gives it an eight out of ten, and the crowd calls for his head. I suspect Warm-Up Bill threw out extra Hershey’s Kisses tonight.

From here, we go to Josh’s old high school, where his grandmother says something along the lines of “You shine like a beautiful star” while her eyes are fixed just off camera at either a cue card or her own image on a television. We are even corrupting grandmothers on this show.

Chris Rene sinks his weird teeth into Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated,” which does not suit him well at all. As in: he does not hit one correct note. Since we’ve established that our first-round surprises are appearances from the songs’ original artists, it’s clear this song choice means they were able to book Avril. But why not “I’m With You?” Or some Mrazzed-out version of “Girlfriend?” Sure enough, Avril comes down the chimney and takes over lead vocals, freeing Chris to rap. And she remembers to bring her bratty-teen attitude! She actually rolls her raccoon eyes when she says America should vote for Josh. Hey, thanks for stopping by, Avril. What are you, 35 now?

Paula gives us PaulaWhopper No. 2: “This show isn’t about hitting all the notes.” Amazing. The judges all agree that their duet could be a hit song today, which is totally true because now we have pitch-correction software.

Chris’ nightclub is rockin’, as we meet a woman identified only as “Chris’s next door neighbor.” She effuses, and then says, and I quote: “HERE IS A BAKER FROM SANTA CRUZ!” The Baker From Santa Cruz hollers, “YOU INSPIRE ME SO MUCH HERE IS A CAKE,” gestures toward a megapastry with Chris’s face on it (which he cannot eat because it is in a different city than his mouth), then introduces two of Chris’s friends from rehab. Did you ever have a friend who decided to get sober and was suddenly fresher, perkier, more alive than ever before? Chris’s pals from rehab are the people who are also in your friend’s meetings. They are dead-eyed and haunted-looking, and this whole piece should be preserved in some kind of museum of deliciousness. Find it online.

Our first two special guests have been Canadian former-teen-star chanteuses, which can only mean that Melanie Amaro will perform “Let’s Go To The Mall” with Robin Sparkles.

Alas! She ends up doing “I Believe I Can Fly.” Holy shit, you guys; R. Kelly is in the house. Okay. I could tell you what this sounded like, but you’ve heard this song enough times and seen enough of these shows to sort that out for yourself. So let me focus on this: At the song’s crescendo, glitter falls from the sky. Gold glitter. You guys, I am not kidding: In the finals of America’s first season of The X Factor, R. Kelly comes onstage and gives Melanie Amaro a literal golden shower. This is either the slyest joke or the most egregious lack of basic research in the history of television. Either way, it is a Christmas miracle.

Oh, also: The song is done in R’s key, which is a bit of a reach for Melanie, and he saves the big ad-libby vocal histrionics for himself. What a guy.

The judges think she was a bit overshadowed — which is really more a criticism of R. Kelly than of her, when you think about it. PaulaWhopper No. 3: “That song will go down in history and already has as one of the most inspiring and prolific songs in history.” And in the time it took her to say that sentence, she earned more than I have all year.

We go to Melanie’s megachurch for her fans’ reaction. It is dead silent, save for the sputtering, wounded voice of her pastor: “You ... you gathered us all in a church to watch you sing with a man who wets on teenage girls? How ... how could you?” Just kidding. They all love it and praise Jesus and stuff.

So that’s round one! Josh showed personality on a grim nothing of a song, Chris mugged his way through a poor fit with an over-it duet partner, and Melanie proved that singing-wise, she is operating at a much higher level than the other two. That this does not translate as “Melanie wins round one” tells you pretty much everything you need to know about The X Factor.

Round two will see each finalist revisiting the song that they sang in their initial audition, but first: a performance from MICHAEL JACKSON IMMORTAL! A group of military disco-ball robots marches in place to “They Don’t Care About Us.” Yes! The “Jew me, Kike me” song! On the second night of Hanukkah! Are Google and Wikipedia behind a firewall in the X Factor production office? The finalists hit the stage for the end of the song and march in place alongside them. And that’s all that happens. This is all an advertisement for Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson Immortal, I’m pretty sure, not against it.

Josh comes back to Etta James’ “At Last,” which is especially poignant given her recent prognosis (which of course goes unaddressed). It’s stripped-down, it’s understated, it’s actually really lovely. Paula looks down to check for goosebumps and then gets distracted for several woozy moments by her own forearm. Welcome back, Paula Abdul. The judges love it. We go back to Josh’s high school, where we meet his best friend, who whoops and hollers and holds a terrified baby. As has been the case so often in this show, I sincerely cannot tell whether he’s kidding.

Chris Rene gives us our third taste of “Young Homie,” which I will bravely reveal has been stuck in my head on several occasions in the last few weeks. It’s a Vegassed-up version; even the backup dancers get to join the action. He’s going to win this thing, isn’t he? The judges praise it, and we return to The Weirdest Nightclub in Santa Cruz, where the mayor screams “CHRIS YOU WERE PUT IN THIS WORLD TO WALK THIS PATH!” Tonight, we are all Nicole Scherzinger.

Last and probably not least but what the fuck do I know: Melanie Amaro with Beyonce’s “Listen.” It is not my kind of song and it is not my kind of vocal, but I can tell you it’s pretty much flawless. Plus, more than any other performance in the finals, it shows development; Melanie has grown into a self-assured performer, and it’s a joy to see. It would be the greatest anti-climax in X Factor history if she were to win this thing, but I could live with it. Nicole blubbers “I told myself I wasn’t going to cry,” which...you did? Have you and yourself met, Nicole? You a lie. Simon sums it up: “You will never be teased again,” which a) is not fully accurate because I have one more recap to write, and b) aligns her very much with the It Gets Better/anti-bullying zeitgeist and proves Simon to be a savvy, sneaky marketer indeed.

So there it is. Tomorrow night, one of these three people will win $5 million, and I honestly couldn’t begin to speculate on which one it will be. But I do know this: I am on my way home to St. Louis for Christmas, and I will be watching the results by the tree with my parents, the way God intended.