updated 12/22/2011 AT 8:00 AM ET
•originally published 12/22/2011 AT 8:30 AM ET
The top three singers – out of 100,000 who auditioned – performed for the final night of competition on Wednesday in Los Angeles, as season 1 of The X Factor nears its end.
Josh Krajcik, Chris Rene and Melanie Amaro performed first with a superstar duet partner, followed by their "$5 million song" on a night head judge Simon Cowell promised would be “the greatest final we’ve ever been in, in terms of talent.”
The winner, who gets a $5 million recording contract and will star in a Pepsi commercial to air during the Super Bowl, will be announced Thursday night (8 p.m. ET) on Fox in a star-studded holiday show with performances by Ne-Yo, British The X Factor winner Leona Lewis, Justin Bieber and Pitbull.
Nicole Scherzinger’s charge performed “Uninvited” with Alanis Morissette, who called the former burrito maker a “very soulful man.” “I couldn’t think of a better way to open up this competition,” Paula Abdul said of the number.
Later, he tackled the Etta James classic “At Last.” “I’m proud,” L.A. Reid said. “You look so at home up there [on the stage] … You’re such a rock star.”
“Hard to tell my chances tomorrow,” Josh said of winning. “They chant for Melanie and Chris, so I feel like an underdog. But my head is held high regardless of outcome.”
The former trash collector, who celebrated eight months of sobriety this week, sang “Complicated” with Avril Lavigne, who said, “Chris is amazing … he definitely kicked ass.” Simon agreed: “[I felt] your total joy and confidence in being here,” he said. “That [duet] could be a record.”
Next, he sang “Young Homie,” including lyrics about his personal struggle with addiction. “You are serving your purpose right now with that song,” Nicole told him. Simon applauded Chris for keeping his promise to stay sober and called him “a brilliant performer.”
“I’ll start a rehab so people can go and get a second chance – if they want it,” Chris said of his potentially winning $5 million. “I’d like to provide a place and the resources.”
Simon’s protégé performed “I Believe I Can Fly” with R. Kelly for the first time ever as a duet. “I felt you got overshadowed by R. Kelly on the song,” L.A. told her. “I expect more from you.” Nicole disagreed, pointing out, “She sang it in R. Kelly’s key – she put 1,000 percent into that performance.”
Simon called it an “incredible performance.”
For the final song of the night, Amaro sang “Listen” by Beyoncé in a powerful performance that had all four judges out of their seats. “That was not a $5 million song, but a $50 million performance,” L.A. told her.
“To me,” Simon said, “you should be the X Factor winner.”
“I don’t know [if I’ll win],” Melanie said after the show. “It’ll be close. Whatever happens, I am happy. I have made peace with myself and the show and I feel confident that I’ll go far.”