'X Factor' winner Melanie Amaro on how victory feels
Melanie Amaro, the freshly crowned Season 1 winner of "The X Factor," sounded tired and perhaps still a little dizzy after her big win as she took reporters' questions over the phone Friday morning. It was understandable: She'd had no sleep since getting the life-changing news Thursday night, having given what she estimated to be around 30 interviews in the intervening hours.
She wouldn't release details about her plans for a forthcoming album. ("I'm going to keep that as a surprise," she said, adding, "I'm just going to say that you should look forward to it and know that I'm going to make some great music.") But even exhausted, Amaro, who revealed only the occasional hint of the Caribbean accent she slipped so comfortably into midway through the season, was unfailingly gracious and thoughtful as she addressed such topics as which contestant she felt had been her biggest competition, how she managed to forgive Simon Cowell for sending her home prematurely, and whether she had believed she'd actually win it all.
Here's some of what she had to say:
On what was going through her head when she won:
It's so surreal. I feel amazing. I feel as though I'm in a dream. This is not real. Last night was an amazing thing for me … I was so shocked … I feel so blessed.
On what she's going to do with the prize money:
I'm definitely going to buy myself a foot massager and buy my mom a new house.
On who she felt had been her biggest competition:
I thought Chris Rene was my biggest competition [because] everyone knew he was an original artist and he wrote his own music and he connected well with everyone.
On how she thinks her talent compared to the other finalists:
I think my talent was a gift, and I think I had a big range, a stronger range than a lot of the other contestants. I think me doing what I do with all of my heart kind of put me apart from a lot of the other contestants, because when I sing, I sing with all of me. I sing to the very, very pit of my soul.
I've grown not only as a person, but as an artist as well. I've matured and really stepped into my own. I'm growing and learning so much from the industry and from being in the competition. And I'm really happy about everything, all the changes that have happened in my life.
On the transformational mid-season moment when she revealed her Caribbean accent:
To be honest, that really wasn't planned. Something came over me during that performance, and I said to myself, "You know what? Accept who you are and just speak," and when I did my accent just came out. But it really wasn't planned.
On whether Simon Cowell eliminating her and then bringing her back was staged or a surprise:
That was a total surprise. I had no idea he was coming. I had no clue Simon was coming to my house. So when he showed up it was like, "Oh my God!"
On what the judges and her family and friends said to her after her victory — and Simon Cowell's backstage nerves:
[They said] they're all so very proud of me and that I really deserved this. And my mentor [Cowell] was so proud. He was more nervous than I was backstage, actually. He kept saying to me, "I'm nervous. Tonight my stomach is in knots. I'm so nervous." All I kept saying was, "Why are you so nervous? I'm the one who's supposed to be nervous!" But they were all proud. My family and the judges were all happy for me.
On artists or producers she might like to work with:
I'd love to work with Mariah Carey. And I'd also love to work with L.A. Reid, because he's a great producer. He's a great mentor. He's wonderful.
Her advice to anyone who's hit a roadblock in the path toward a goal:
Continue pushing and never give up, because if you give up you're letting yourself get defeated. You can't do that. If you give up, you're not going to go anywhere. You won't succeed. You won't fulfill your dream. If it's something you really want, you really have to fight for it. Anything that's important is worth fighting for.
On whether it was difficult to forgive Simon Cowell for sending her home:
No. He was so sincere about coming back to my house and apologizing about everything that I could not stay mad at all. I mean, I was hurt at first, but I forgave and forgot and let go and I really made peace with it.
On whether she imagined that when she came back after being eliminated that she could actually win the whole thing:
Actually, no. This is really bad, because I should have really believed in myself, but I kept thinking to myself that I wasn't good enough. I constantly kept telling myself that. When I broke that was when I sang my song [R. Kelly's "The World’s Greatest," around Thanksgiving] and I consciously was telling myself, "Just be yourself, Mel. Just let go and just be you." And I did that and I let the accent out and let everyone know about my journey and everything I'd been through.
On whether that was the moment she thought she might win:
I still was thinking that, regardless of anything, I still was going to go far because I had accepted myself for who I was. [I believed] I was going to go far regardless of the competition, because I actually started to believe in myself.
On whether she could have gone as far in the competition had Cowell not been her mentor:
No. I don't think I would have gone very far at all because I needed Simon to be that tough judge that he was with me in order for me to grow to get to a higher place. So for me I needed Simon. I needed Simon.
On conspiracy theories that Simon staged her early elimination and retrieval (two weeks later) for dramatic effect:
I really don't know. All I know is he [said he] made a mistake. He apologized about it. I moved on from it, and look where I am now. Whatever happened in the past is the past, and I'm looking toward the future.
On whether she had resumed her old life after her early elimination:
I did. After being cut, I went back to working. I went back to doing the same old thing I was doing before. And I wasn't too happy. I was a little miserable. But after getting a chance to come back, I felt as though, wow, I really wasn't meant to be doing all this other stuff I was doing. I was meant to sing.
Do you think you'll buy Melanie Amaro's album when it comes out?
— Amy Reiter
Photo: Judge Simon Cowell (left) reacts as Melanie Amaro (right) is announced as the winner of "The X Factor" Dec. 22 on Fox. Credit: Ray Mickshaw / Fox.