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And the ‘X Factor’ Season 3 Winner Is…

Lyndsey Parker
Yahoo TV

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photo: Reuters/Kevork Djansezian

"The X Factor USA" has suffered from a credibility problem over the past two years, with its ratings in steady decline and winners Melanie Amaro and Tate Stevens failing to sell (or even release) many records. But with folk duo Alex & Sierra, who were crowned the show's Season 3 winners on Thursday, the fledgling "X Factor USA" may finally replicate the success it has had with U.K. contestants like Leona Lewis and One Direction.

"I feel like Christmas just came early…thank you America," said the duo's delighted mentor, Simon Cowell. As for Alex & Sierra themselves, they seemed to be in shock. All Sierra could muster was: "Thanks America, for not making fun of my weird faces all the time!"

The realization that they'd actually just won a $1 million Sony record deal seemed to finally set in when they started to sing "Say Something." Alex couldn't even get through the already weepy song, he was crying so hard...and by the time the rest of the top 13 ran onstage, all dressed in white, to congratulate them, everyone else was crying, too.

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While lovebirds Alex Kinsey and Sierra Deaton, both age 22, didn't start off as this year's frontrunners, and Sierra had had surprisingly little onstage singing experience before auditioning with her boyfriend for the show, the twosome quickly became the most fascinating finalists of Season 3. There really was no contestant like them in the history of "The X Factor" — or of any singing competition, for that matter — and they always put their stamp on every song they covered, whether it was Robert Palmer, Britney Spears, or even the Grease soundtrack. And soon those cover songs were all over the iTunes charts.

In the weeks leading up to Season 3's finale, Alex & Sierra landed six singles on iTunes' Top 100 Overall Singles Chart (including two number ones, "Say Something" and "Gravity"), and nine in the Top 50 Pop Chart — indicating that viewers might actually buy an Alex & Sierra album after the show, in what Simon always calls "the real world." And that's exactly what Simon needs to prove that "The X Factor USA" can actually create legitimate stars.

Other finale highlights included Jeff Gutt singing "O Holy Night" while standing in a faux-snow onstage blizzard; Alex & Sierra's "All I Want for Christmas is You," which felt like an outtake from a warm 'n' fuzzy-VHS Sonny & Cher holiday special; a duet between Alex & Sierra and Jeff Gutt on John Newman's "Love Me Again"; an adorable skit featuring grade-school children critiquing Simon Cowell; and a debut "Cannonball" performance by Lea Michele that basically served as a vocal master class for anyone considering auditioning for "The X Factor" Season 4. The ultimate lowlight? A Demi Lovato-lampooning skit about her addiction to "Annoying Juice" that was probably ill-advised since, you know, she's been to rehab and is sober now. Demi did not seem amused.

Ugh. Anyway, congratulations to Alex & Sierra, to runner-up Jeff Gutt, to third-place finalist Carlito Olivero…and to Simon Cowell, because Alex & Sierra's victory just may have secured him a fourth "X Factor" season.

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