LOS ANGELES - "The X Factor" judges didn't want to stop listening to Melanie Amaro.
The powerful 19-year-old vocalist from Sunrise, Fla., wowed the Fox talent competition's panel with her soaring rendition of Beyonce's "Listen" during Wednesday's final performance round, prompting head judge Simon Cowell to declare that Amaro should win the show's grand prize: a $5 million recording contract and a starring role in a Pepsi commercial.
"That wasn't a $5 million performance," declared judge L.A. Reid. "That was a $50 million performance."
The panel also poured praise on the other two finalists: soulful 30-year-old single father Josh Krajcik of Wooster, Ohio, and 28-year-old singer-rapper Chris Rene of Santa Cruz, Calif. Krajcik accompanied himself on guitar for his final performance of "At Last," while Rene delivered his original tune "Young Homie" with a group of dancers and singers.
"You make everyone fall in love with you," judge Paula Abdul told Rene.
Before the final showdown, each singer awkwardly dueted with established artists. Krajcik was joined by Alanis Morissette on "Uninvited," Rene teamed up with Avril Lavigne for "Complicated," and Amaro partnered with R. Kelly on "I Believe I Can Fly," which marked the first time that the R&B star performed his motivational anthem with another singer.
The winner, which will be decided by viewer votes, will be announced on Thursday's show.
The contest thus far hasn't achieved the same success as "American Idol," which Cowell left last year to import "X Factor" from the U.K. to the U.S. Last Wednesday's performance episode drew 10.79 million viewers, less than half of the average "Idol" audience.
Unlike "Idol," the competition is open to solo singers and groups and has a lower minimum age of 12 and no upper age limit. The judges also serve as mentors: Cowell represented female vocalists, including Amaro; Reid headed male singers, including Rene; Nicole Scherzinger was in charge of over-30 singers, including Krajcik; and Abdul helmed the groups.