As Dan is taking a few days off, I'll be stepping in to live blog part two of "The X Factor" finale, and I hope you'll all bear with me. I'm usually busy on Thursday nights recapping "Project Accessory" or "Project Runway" or something else "Project" related, so I'm coming to the party a little (okay, a lot) late. That's probably why I'm torn about which singer I'd like to see take home the (supposed) $5 million recording contract.

While I'd been unimpressed with Chris, his performance last night was absolutely a game changer -- given the opportunity to perform his own work (which is what I'd most like to hear on any forthcoming album, really), he clearly has songwriting skills, an engaging stage persona and, yes, a personal history that is surely relatable to a lot of people. But then, Melanie can SING. And Josh is a consummate musician, well-rounded and clearly capable of more than we're seeing on "The X Factor." I can't say I'll be devastated if any of the three wins the big ticket prize -- which, like Dan, I find to be truly questionable despite what Simon might say. Just as pro athletes get what seem to be massive paydays, often those astronomical numbers are contingent on an athlete never being injured/never being fined/or never getting benched. Still, a recording contract is becoming a rare and wonderful thing these days, so may some sizable spoils go to the winner, no matter who she or he might be. 

8:00 THOUSANDS APPLIED. THREE REMAIN. Part of me loves how ridiculously over-the-top the intros and graphics are on this show, and part of me feels like this finale is coming across like a battle to the death. 

8:03 Steve Jones looks quite dapper in his tux. I just wish he was better at this. Oh, no "Live or Let Die" remix tonight for the judge intro -- it's "The Final Countdown" by Europe. Steve introduces... the final twelve! Performing "Edge of Glory" by Lady Gaga. Hey, there's Rachel! Not sobbing! 

8:05 And the final twelve are quickly shunted aside. Forget twelve, the important number is three -- and don't you forget it, audience. Enough with the singing -- it's time for the judges to bubble over with love and warm tidings. L.A. Reid loves everyone! Nicole says we're all winners tonight! Paula is overwhelmed! Stereo Hogzz! Simon is feeling nervous. 

8:13 The three finalists will perform without having to worry about the competition. They'll be singing holiday songs. What is Simon Cowell doing for the holidays? He's going to the North Pole. 

Melanie sings that damn Mariah Carey song, "All I Want for Christmas," that I have not been able to get away from for three weeks. Great. Of course, Melanie does a lovely job with it surrounded by candy canes and bouncy dancers. L.A. Reid compliments her on her voice, "the best friend a song has ever met." Nicole calls her a "princess goddess warrior." Paula says her hair off her face is gorgeous and tells her to have fun. Simon says she has been "an absolute pleasure to work with."

Now, Melanie gets warm and fuzzy messages from her school, her hair dresser and her best friend. We watch Melanie cry. Her brothers are proud of her. Her mother really misses her. Her dad cries. Her grandmother cheers her on. So, this is how we're going to fill up two hours. Well, this kind of stuff, Justin Bieber and Pitbull. Steve Jones tries to get Melanie to give him a reaction. Dude, she's crying and messing up her make-up. This would be one of those things you may not want to do next season if they let you come back. 

8:26 It's Chris' turn to sing "A Merry Little Christmas." He's no Judy Garland, but this is actually a pretty good song choice for him. He gets a little shaky toward the end, but overall, not terrible -- and it's very Chris. Nicole tells Chris he is a star from the inside out. The music comes from a different place! Oh, Nicole, please stop. Paula thinks he's the most original. Simon likes him. He thinks he's an inspiration during today's tough times. L.A. Reid tells Chris his experiences can truly change the world. 

Okay, I'm going to get my Grinch on right here -- but everyone is putting a LOT of pressure on someone who hasn't even been clean a full year. 

Chris' counselor congratulates him on his motivation. His brother calls him an inspiration. His best friend knows his dad is looking down from above. Chris' sister also knows their dad would be proud of him. His brother is waiting for him to fly. His mom loves him. His kid tells him he loves him. Chris tells Steve that winning would open up a lot of possibilities for himself, but also a lot of people he knows. 

8:37 Steve asks Nicole what she has planned for the holidays. Cooking and playing cards and family! Steve wants to come over. Nicole pretends not to hear him, then tells him no. This is more awkward than cute, unfortunately. Anyway, Nicole introduces Josh, who sings Charles Brown's "Please Come Home for Christmas." It's not as soulful of a rendition as I hoped.
 
L.A. tells Josh he's so good he's at a loss for words. And he just made him realize it's Christmas. Really? Paula thinks his voice is magical. And Christmas songs fit him like a glove. Simon tells him he's represented the over-30 category so well, because there should never be a cap on talent. Simon tells him he's going to sell a lot of records in the future. Nicole tells him she appreciates him so much because he delivers week after week. 
 
The principal of Josh's high school sends him a message, as does his choir teacher. I expect this for Melanie, but isn't this a bit way back for an over-30 performer? Ah, his co-workers weigh in. His girlfriend, his father and his mother are very proud of him. His daughter loves him. Josh cries. His life is beginning to make sense. 
 
We're at the 47 minute mark... and no results. Not a lot of singing, either. Clearly, all those special guest stars are being stuffed into the second hour. 
 
8:49 In just moments Steve will make the first cut... but first, Justin Bieber! He's singing "The Christmas Song." No Hanukkah song? Nothing for Kwanzaa? Just a thought. We're a little heavy on the Christmas stuff. Oh, hey, look, Stevie Wonder! I guess Justin is showing his holiday spirit with green sleeves on his bomber jacket. Which look fine in the first set up, but a little clashy in the second, when he performs "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." I'm not sure this song was ever really meant to rock out, but that's more of a problem for his back-up dancers, really. 
 
Justin invites Drew onto the stage to sing.. one line. And get a big hug. And a kiss on the hand. And another hug. This is sweet, but also makes Drew seem more like a fan he yanked out of the audience than a professional singer. But she's happy. 
 
Justin tells Stevie he's an idol of his. Stevie loves him back. Justin thinks Drew is a very special girl as well. Drew would have preferred to hold hands with him on the beach, but this is okay, too.
 
We're about to get our first results... right after the commercial.
 
9:04 Time for results! The final three are dragged out onto the stage by their handlers to wrestle alligators to the death! Oh, wait, no, it's just time to announce the third place contestant. In third place is... Chris Rene
 
So much for the upset that was being buzzed about. L.A. is still proud of Chris. I wish I'd made a money bet with Dan. Damn. 
 
Steve calls back Melanie and Simon and keeps Josh and Nicole from leaving -- the cuts to a break. What the hell? 

We return the break for the Top 5 Most Shocking Moments of the season. I guess someone wasn't ready to perform and Steve got confused, thus the awkward cut to commercial. Anyway, the moments are Xander being weird, Astro being pouty in the bottom two, Dylan Lawson freaking out, Chad freaking out and Rachel Crow sobbing (followed by Nicole sobbing). So, really, a big tribute to memorably crappy behavior. Steve brings Rachel onto the stage. She wants to steal his job. Which really means she's going to introduce Leona Lewis performing "Run" as moments from the season flicker in black and white behind her. 

Steve asks the judges what they thought about watching the season as a music video. It was emotional for L.A. Reid. Nicole says she's enjoyed every moment of this emotional season. Paula thinks the show has been one of the most exciting job experiences she's ever had. Simon recalls going through the starmaking process with Leona Lewis. 

Would you like to audition for "The X Factor"? You can. Go to the website and figure it out. And now, at 9:20, another break! 

9:24 Time for Steve to check in with Melanie and Josh. How are they feeling? Nervous, you idiot! They thank their fans, they hug, it's all good. 

Oh boy, a clip review of L.A. and Simon fighting. I realize we aren't getting any more results until the last two minutes of the show, but I wish this was just an hour and a half (or, even better, one hour) finale. The filler is not so filling. 

L.A. Lakers start Derek Fisher introduces his good friend 50 Cent performing "Wait Until Tonight." And... a bunch of Lakers come out to do stand around? 

The sound cut out, I'm assuming because of the lyrics. Oh, now it's "In Da Club." And Astro comes out to perform with him. 

9:37 It's Paula vs. Nicole: The Cry-Off. Okay, this made me laugh a bit. And yes, Nicole won the cry-off by a sizable margin. I never thought anyone could out-Paula Paula, but Nicole did it.

Time for a performance from Pitbull with Ne-Yo. Marcus Canty also comes out for about a verse. Admittedly, this is a good way to get the audience's blood pumping. 

9:42 Time for Steve to talk to Josh's daughter. She's proud. Melanie's mom is proud and excited. Really, there's nothing particularly new or exciting anyone can say now that they didn't say in the pre-taped segments.

9:43 Josh and Melanie duet to "Heroes." I have to admit that I hate the idea of anyone covering this song. David Bowie owns it, sorry. Melanie outsings Josh, but then, I don't know if she sounds different enough from so many of the other power pop vocalists out there. This isn't a great song for Josh, either. 

9:50 Time to announce the winner... and it's Melanie. Or I think it is, because my computer froze. Anyway, she's singing and being hugged by a lot of people, so I feel pretty confident that she won. She says God is good, and while I'm not arguing that, I tend to think God isn't voting for reality TV competitions -- I kind of hope he's busy with more important matters. Anyway, Simon feels he's found a superstar. Really, a surprisingly satisfying conclusion to "The X Factor," in that someone who clearly has natural talent took home the prize. 

So, what did you think of the winner of "The X Factor"? Were you surprised? Which guest performance did you enjoy the most?