An emotional Melanie Amaro won the TV singing contest The X Factor on Thursday, earning a $5 million recording contract and closing the first U.S. season of the heavily hyped Fox show.
Josh Krajcik finished second after a public vote and Chris Rene came in third after a Christmas-themed, two-hour finale that also saw performances by Justin Bieber, Stevie Wonder, Leona Lewis and 50 Cent.
Amaro, 19, a ballad singer whose voice has drawn comparisons to Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, had been tipped by the four judges to win after delivering a powerful rendition of Beyonce's hit Listen in Wednesday's live show.
On Thursday, she dropped to her knees in prayer and wept with joy, speechless at her victory.
More than 100,000 people auditioned for a chance to compete in The X Factor, which judge and entrepreneur Simon Cowell brought to American television after making it the most-watched show in his native Britain.
But the U.S. show has fallen short of the ratings and critical expectations set up by Cowell this year. It has drawn an average of 12 million viewers or about half the audience for long-running singing contest American Idol that is also on Fox.
Amaro gets a $5 million contract with Cowell's Sony Music-owned record label SyCo and a starring role in a new commercial from sponsor Pepsi.
We came here to find a superstar and we found a superstar, said a delighted Cowell after Amaro won the contest.
Krajcik, 30, a bluesy rock singer who worked in a burrito restaurant before joining the show, also congratulated Amaro.
Melanie deserves it. She has a wonderful voice. I have had such an incredible experience. I got to be myself and sing what I wanted to sing. I couldn't be happier, Krajcik said.
Rene, 28, a recovering drug addict and rapper whose original song Young Homies has been a YouTube hit, was eliminated at the halfway point of Thursday's live show.
All three contestants had performed two songs apiece on Wednesday. Host Steve Jones did not reveal the number of votes cast by the public by phone, text message, Twitter and online.
I feel amazing that I got to do this, that I am here, Rene said. I got to touch a lot of people's hearts out here.
The X Factor will return for a second U.S. season in the fall of 2012.