LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The three finalists of TV contest "The X Factor" went back to their roots on Wednesday, each performing their first audition songs as they battled for votes and a $5 million recording contract.
Power ballad singer Melanie Amaro, 19, belted out Beyonce's hit "Listen," while 30-year-old rocker Josh Krajcik played guitar for a pared-down version of the Etta James classic "At Last."
Recovering drug addict Chris Rene, 28, performed his original rap song "Young Homies" that captivated judges at his September audition and has since racked up more than 10 million views on YouTube.
"This is going to be a very, very close call," said British judge and "X Factor" creator Simon Cowell.
But after Amaro closed the show, Cowell declared she deserved to win the $5 million prize and a Pepsi commercial.
"Based on that performance tonight, you should be the winner of the 'X Factor'," Cowell said.
The winner will be decided by public votes and announced at the end of a two-hour live show on Thursday that will feature performances by teen idol Justin Bieber, rapper Pitbull and R&B singer Ne-Yo.
On Wednesday night's live show, the three finalists also performed duets with established pop stars but earned less favorable comments from the judges.
Amaro struggled with the key when she teamed up with R. Kelly for "I Believe I Can Fly," Krajcik seemed intimidated next to Alanis Morissette on "Uninvited" and Rene's singing was deemed shaky when he took the stage with Avril Lavigne on "Complicated."
The two-part finale marks the close of the first season of the U.S. version of "The X Factor," which has fallen short of the ratings and critical expectations set up by Cowell earlier this year.
The talent contest is drawing an average 12 million viewers for the Fox network but lags comedies like "Two and A Half Men" and "Modern Family" and crime series "NCIS" in terms of audience.
Cowell admitted to reporters on Monday that he was probably "a little too cocky" when he launched the U.S. version of his hit British show. But he said "The X Factor" would be better when it returns for a second season in 2012.
(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by John O'Callaghan)