So 19-year-old nursing student Melanie Amaro is the first winner of "The X Factor USA." And since maybe not quite so many people were watching "The X Factor" as the show's creator, Simon Cowell, might have hoped, I am sure a lot of you are asking this morning...who IS this girl? What's her story? So, without further ado, here are five fascinating facts about the woman who just received a pretty amazing Christmas gift: a $5 million record deal.
She used to hide her Caribbean accent - Viewers were shocked on the top nine show when this soft-spoken singer out of nowhere morphed into a totally different person, breaking out a previously unheard thick accent and exclaiming, "This is me! This is Melanie!" Speaking backstage after the top nine show, Melanie admitted that she'd made a deliberate effort to speak in an American accent before. "I've always tried to curb [my Caribbean accent]. But tonight, it came out, and I couldn't help but to speak the way I normally do at home. A lot of people say they have a hard time understanding me when I speak, so I try cater to them. Now I have no choice but to continue to speak the way I normally speak. I'll be a lot more comfortable now that I don't have to think about things to say in an American accent."
She was denied an "X Factor" fast-pass - Not only did Melanie almost get sent home before the live shows, she almost didn't make it to her audition at all. "I wanted to get a Fast Pass at the local Fox news in Florida, and they told me, 'No, we didn't enjoy you very much,'" she says, incredibly. "So I waited in line with all the thousands of people." Guess it was worth the wait.
Her hometown mayor helped her family travel to the finale - Mike Ryan, the mayor of Sunrise, Florida (where Melanie lives), was so excited about this local girl being in the "X Factor" finale, he helped raise some of the money needed to send the Amaros to California so they could see her final performance, according to the Sun-Sentinel. "I told them to pack their bags. We'd find a way to get them there," he told the Sun-Sentinel. Melanie may be on her way to stardom now, but with hometown support like that, she's sure to never forget where she came from.
She started singing at six months old - "At six months, a baby's spine isn't aligned yet to sit up straight on your own," says Melanie. "But I was sitting up on the crib, sitting up on my own and just singing. [My mom] said she didn't have a clue what I was singing, but it sounded so pretty and she said it was music. She said right after I finished singing I would just lay my head back down and fall asleep." Nineteen years later, singing is still Melanie's main passion.
She thinks she could sing "Young Homie" better than Chris Rene - Well, that's at least what she joked at this past Monday's "X Factor" press conference, when the top three were asked which of each other's songs they would have liked to perform. (Josh Krajcik, on the other hand, thought he could have done a better job with Melanie's "Man In The Mirror.")
But wait...here are some bonus facts on runner-up Josh and third-placer Chris!
JOSH KRAJCIK FACTS:
He lied in order to get his first gig - According to legend, when Josh was 16, he convinced the owner of a Lodi, Ohio bar, the Shady Glen, that he was 22, so he could play there. He was paid $100 for the Shady Glen gig--not bad money for a 16-year-old! Ironically, Josh later came to fame as an "over-30's" contestant competing against teenagers like InTENsity, Rachel Crow, Astro, and Drew Ryniewicz.
He performed on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" once...in a backing band - The Josh Krajcik Band once toured as the backing band for Josh's friend Gran Bel Fisher, which led to appearances on "Kimmel" and at Bonnaroo. My guess is the next time Josh plays "Kimmel" or Bonnaroo, he'll be headlining.
He has self-released two albums - Ghosts came out 2005, and Atavistic in 2011. Will they get officially reissued someday? Let's hope.
He salts his vanilla ice cream - When I asked him backstage at the finale to divulge one fun factoid about himself, that's what he told me. Hey, the guy used to be a professional burrito cook, so he must know a thing or two about cuisine. Pass the salt, please!
He'll be eating noodles, not burritos, this Christmas - In other food-related Krajcik news, Josh recently told me when I asked him about Krajcik family holiday traditions, "We love my grandpa Pops' noodles. They're fantastic. They're just these doughy, chickeny noodles that everybody just craves. Every year he says, 'This is the last year I'm making them!' And then he makes them again the next year. It's a big tradition for us." Sadly, Josh wouldn't give me the noodle recipe--he actually said Pops refuses to divulge it to anyone. But I bet it goes well with Pepsi!
CHRIS RENE FACTS:
His sister auditioned for "The X Factor," too - Chris's older sibling, Gina Rene, was an over-30's contestant who made it to Boot Camp before getting cut. She didn't receive nearly as much screentime as Chris, obviously, but one particularly cute early-season moment was when Chris and Gina passed the first Boot Camp round, found each other in the crowd, and ran to each other to congratulatorily hug. Chris is still Gina's biggest fan, sometimes talking her up in press interviews; he was seen backstage at Thanksgiving week's family-oriented episode with a Gina Rene T-shirt.
Music runs in the Rene family - Along with Gina, who is in an electronic band called Soulstice with Chris's brother Gabriel, Chris's grandfather, Leon Rene, was a successful songwriter who wrote "Rockin' Robin." Chris's late father, Rafael "Googie" Rene, was a jazz and soul singer. Chris once vowed to make his father proud, and there's no doubt his entire family is very proud of him right now.
He recently reunited with his long-lost son - Chris's 3-year-old son was featured in early footage on "The X Factor," but Chris has a second child, 6-year-old Elijah. According to TMZ, Chris did not even know about Elijah until Elijah was 2 years old, and though he and the boy were reunited four years ago and formed a relationship, Elijah's boy's foster parents referred to Chris as just a "family friend." Back in September, shortly after "The X Factor" started, Chris took to his Facebook page to announce that Elijah now knows that Chris is his biological father. Chris posted, "I am so happy I can't express my joy with words!!! I feel a new song coming though. So Blessed."
He self-released an album called Soul'd Out in 2009 - The disc came out on his own label, Love Life Muzik, and it definitely leans in a neo-soul direction. Will this be the kind of music Chris makes post-"X Factor"? I hope so, because he sounds really in his element here. Maybe Soul'd Out will get an official reissue someday, too.
He would have spent some of his prize money to fund a rehab center - Chris was clean for only 70 days when he auditioned with "Young Homie," and he later dedicated his Thanksgiving performance to the rehab counselor who set him straight. He's never forgotten his dark past, and he now wants to help others by opening "a place where people can go, people like me, people with certain addictions. Give them resources and a place where they can find themselves again and to decide if they want to change their life. I'd like to give them a place where they could do that," according to On The Red Carpet. Maybe he'll still make a fortune with his music someday, and open up that center after all.