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'The X Factor' results: The top four vie for the finale

December 15, 2011 |  9:34 am

"X Factor" contestant Melanie Amaro

Do we all agree that the three (out of the four) remaining acts who should make it to the finals on "The X Factor" next week are Melanie Amaro, Josh Krajcik and Chris Rene? Are there any die-hard Marcus Canty fans out there clamoring for him to pull off yet another miraculous squeaker to survive? Actually, I'm sure there are many of them — Canty's a talented singer and clearly a sweetheart of a guy. But judging from the performances on Wednesday night's "X Factor" semifinals, in which the contestants performed one song selected for them in a Pepsi-sponsored vote and another of their choosing, it seemed that Canty's time may soon be up.

Of course, you never know which way the audience vote will go, as booted "X Factor" contenders Rachel Crow and Drew Ryniewicz would surely attest. But Amaro, Krajcik and Rene all kicked it up at least a few notches during the semifinals, and Canty, well, in his best moments he got lost, and in his worst, he made us squirm.

I blame L.A. Reid. He's repeatedly made cheesy production choices — cheap-looking, lingerie-clad dancers who paw at Canty, for example — on Canty's behalf, which keeps landing the singer in the bottom two. (Three times!) Once there, Canty saves himself by shining on songs in which he is allowed to connect directly with the audience, sans flashing lights and flashing mud-flap ladies. If none of that stuff were there in the first place, Canty might have had a smoother ride in this competition.

But this week there is no save-me song. These two performances count for everything. And while Canty's vocals managed to rise above the stage shtick — a single white rose handed to some random "special lady" in the audience, a scantily clad hair-flinging dancer, billowing stage smoke — on his first song, Boyz II Men's "I'll Make Love to You," he was completely overpowered by the ridiculously gyrating "Chorus Line" rejects and confetti on his rendition of Wham!'s "Careless Whisper." Simon Cowell called Canty's second song "horrific," "grotesque" and "an absolute joke." Cowell put it a little strongly, but he was pretty much right.

Meanwhile, the other three contestants fared much better. Despite not having the best voice in the competition (as the judges repeatedly reminded him last night), Chris Rene put his seductive sweetness — or, as Reid termed it, "lovability" — on display in both his songs last night, not to mention in a pre-performance video package in which he wept because he so deeply wanted to make his late dad proud. He might not be the best singer, but in a between-lyric "uh … uh" competition, Rene would win hands down. He also moves well onstage. And he's cute. I thought his first song, Sugar Ray's upbeat "Fly," worked pretty well. (Cowell rated it a seven out of 10.) His second song, Alicia Keys' "No One," worked even better. It showed not only that Rene can play piano, but that he looks just as adorable in a grandpa cardigan and tie, with hair slicked back, as he does in his backward-hat street-tough look. Smart move, that outfit — it will net him both the grandma vote and the young-girls-who-dream-of-bad-boys-with-golden-hearts vote. Even Cowell was affected, telling Rene he could be "the dark horse in this competition."

Melanie Amaro sang a solemn version of "Hero," with the writer of the song somewhere in the house and a stamp of approval from the singer who made the song mega-famous, Mariah Carey. Amaro killed it, as usual, though the judges' response was mixed. (Reid didn't feel Amaro's "usual passion.") Then she sang a rousing, inspiring, just freaking amazing version of Nina Simone's "Feeling Good" and brought the house down and the judges to their feet. Reid, who mentors the boys, called her "the greatest female that's ever graced this stage," which would seem like higher praise if she weren't the only woman left in the competition. Amaro has incredible range, beautiful tone, tremendous vocal control, an impassioned delivery, a hard-core work ethic, a heartwarming smile and a moving backstory. Who knows how the vote will go? But I'd like to see her win.

Which is not to say that Josh Krajcik doesn't also have much to recommend him. He did a bang-up job on his Pepsi Challenge song, the Beatles "Come Together," and then tackled a long-time favorite song of mine that has, alas, lost much of its power to move me now that it's a singing-talent-show chestnut, Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." Song staleness aside, Krajcik's gritty, tender voice caressed all the right notes and admirably attacked the others, but I felt he got a bit lost behind the piano. Still, Krajcik is soulful, unslick, kind-eyed and has someone out there he communicates with in sign language: He'd be a worthy winner too.

What do you think? Who should advance to the finals, and who do you want to see win the whole thing?


Simon Cowell blames other judges for 'X Factor' voting snafu

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"The X Factor" results: The final five are revealed

"The X Factor" recap: Summoning the spirit of Michael Jackson

— Amy Reiter

Photo: Top 4 Performance: Melanie Amaro performs before the judges on "The X Factor" airing on Wednesday, Dec. 14, on Fox. Credit: Ray Mickshaw / Fox.