'Shocked' Singer to Surprise With Debut Album; Simon Says 3 Other Finalists on His Wish List
Big, soaring ballads brought the first "X Factor" crown to Melanie Amaro, but the young singer says she cannot be pigeonholed so easily.
"I'm not going to tell anyone," Amaro said of her vision for her debut album. "I think I'm going to surprise. Humongous ballads -- everyone knows I can do that. I want to show people there is more to me."
Amaro, 19, whose family hails from Florida and the British Virgin Islands, walked away with a $5 million Sony Music record deal and a Pepsi ad campaign, besting second-place finisher Josh Krajcik and Chris Rene, who placed in the competition.
Her deal is with Simon Cowell's Syco label. Cowell said there are three labels within Sony that are interested in distributing the album and a decision will be made rather promptly, quite possibly before the end of the year. Decisions about other "X Factor" contestants are likely to be made promptly as well.
"We can't sign everyone," Cowell said before rattling off the ones he was most keen on: the teenaged rapper Astro, along with the finalists Rene and Krajcik. "She is the priority."
Cowell concurred with her assessment of the type of album she should make. "She's a different kind of singer so you don't want to be what's going on already -- there's a lot of dance (music) at the moment. A lot of people who voted for her want a different kind of record and we have to do her justice. Fortunately a lot of good producers want to work with her."
Amaro was still dazed two hours after being awarded the title on the FOX TV show, which has averaged about 12 million viewers per episode, far below the network's "American Idol." Greeting members of the media after the show -- many with hugs -- Amaro recounted several times the story about Cowell coming to her home to get her to return to the show after he had cast her off.
Cowell, who mentored Amaro, said "I remember when I walked into her house she was literally watching herself on YouTube. I knocked on the door and then it was like marriage proposal (to get her back). I made a mistake and I admit it. I royally screwed up and in this instance I had a chance to rectify it. I'm proud of the fact that the show found her."
Once they reunited, Amaro came to be known as a singer who stood her ground. "I had to be able to stand up for myself," she said, just minutes after Cowell complimented her -- out of earshot -- on her confidence . "Many times we had gone back and forth on a song -- I'm not doing this, this doesn't sound bad, oh, I'm going to do this. Wow, it's a process."
Thursday's two-hour finale for the first season of "X Factor" was a Christmas-themed evening with three finalists offering carols along with Justin Bieber, who did a duet with Stevie Wonder on "The Christmas Song." Rene, whose story of recent sobriety inspired fans and judges as much as his original raps, was dismissed first, leaving Amaro and Krajcik to do a final duet together on David Bowie's "Heroes."
Accolades were flying from judges and Amaro's fellow contestants on the red carpet after the show.
"A great American voice," said Antonio "L.A." Reid, noting he thought Krajcik would win. "She is the next great American voice. I felt honestly the three top contestants had an equal chance to win. I think America got it right ... I can't be happier for her."
Ne-Yo, who performed with Pitbull on the show, said the three finalists "have bright futures" but the key for Amaro is to "make sure you keep that big family close because they will keep you grounded."
"I kinda knew she was gonna win," contestant Marcus Canty said. "It was amazing seeing it. She had a huge fan base because she sang so beautifully each week. She brought it."
Judge Paula Abdul, who hinted that the producers would look into tweaks in the contest's judging for season two, was her usual glowing self, saying "everyone had such grace and dignity up there. It felt really emotional because of who was out there."
Emotion was a key word for Krajcik, a 30-year-old bar-band soul singer who had far more experience than many of the other 12 finalists.
"I never compromised myself," he said of the"X Factor" experience. "It seems to me that they allowed us to be more ourselves. They could let us change the songs, do different arrangements to let us show who we want to be as artists."
After host Steve Jones called out Amaro's name, she said she went into a state of disbelief, then dropped to her knees, clasped her hands and prayed. Before she knew it she was being hugged by family members and friends -- and then she had to deliver a final song, Beyonce's "Listen."
"I was so shocked, so happy," she said. "I've sang 'Listen' a million times and I couldn't remember any of the words, I was so overwhelmed."
Cowell said in closing that his advice to her was "remember that it was the fans who got you here . Some of the people who win these shows forget that. I told the same thing to Kelly Clarkson. One minute you're thanking fans, the next you're not signing autographs. I don't buy that kind of behavior. If they've made you, you have a debt with them."