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Image: Simon Cowell, Nicole Scherzinger
Mark Davis  /  Getty Images
Judges Simon Cowell and Nicole Scherzinger at "The X Factor" press conference in Los Angeles on Dec. 19.
By
Hollywood Reporter
updated 12/20/2011 1:50:33 PM ET 2011-12-20T18:50:33

Simon Cowell admits mistakes were made on "The X Factor’s" inaugural season. Namely: being too British, letting too many votes go uncast and allowing too many deadlocks to decide outcomes that could have been decidedly different.

Those were the head judge’s words at an afternoon press conference held Monday on the "X Factor" stage. It would mark the last time the remaining three contestants — Josh Krajcik, Melanie Amaro and Chris Rene — make a public appearance before heading into performance mode. On Wednesday, the trio goes head-to-head in one last showdown of vocal might.

After three months of competition, there is no clear favorite to point to. While Melanie and Josh are exceptional singers, Chris Rene has an undeniable knack for writing hooks. Where Chris and Melanie are easier to market, Josh, a virtual guitar god, has them beat in the musicality department. And each has his or her loyal legion of fans at the ready, tweeting messages of support and encouragement. Who’ll emerge victorious is a total toss-up at this point.

“I’m really proud of the top three,” said judge LA Reid. “They’re all amazingly talented and unique in their own right they have a distinct competitive advantage — big on talent and loads of charisma.”

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But is it the right final three? It didn’t take long before Simon brought up the earlier-than-expected dismissal of Rachel Crow. “The process didn’t work,” he said, “If everyone had done their job properly that week, the judges should have saved her.” Asked what kind of improvements he might consider for the future, he answered, “I’m not gonna change the system just suggest we do a better job in the future.”

It was a jab directed squarely at Nicole Scherzinger, who confessed, “the elimination process has been really hard… it’s something I could have never prepared for.” OK, so A&R executive is not in her future, but considering she was the one who gunned for the judging position — after a very contentious exit by Cheryl Cole — one has to wonder whether she can handle the responsibility of looking someone in the eye and saying, “That wasn’t good enough.”

Dear Nicole: Quit playing it safe on 'X Factor'

We didn’t get the answer on Monday. Asked about getting a bad rap in the press (death threats from viewers was not mentioned), Nicole would only say, “For me what’s important is to live in the moment and make sure I finish my job.”

But criticism wasn’t limited to Rachel Crow’s elimination night. At one point LA told Simon he thought Drew’s rendition of “Billie Jean” was “god-awful” and said Josh’s take on Michael Jackson’s “Dirty Diana” was “pretty bad.” For his part, Simon mocked “Lakoda Rayne and their four seasons.”

Still, Simon was perhaps hardest on himself, from overestimating the ratings to predicting an out-the-gate hit. He blamed it on his own ego, but made no apologies for it. Said Simon: “I’m cocky by nature, but I’d come off a massive final in the UK, I had adrenaline, I couldn’t wait to put the show on here and it’s gonna take a little bit longer than I thought.”

Don't worry! Cowell says Stern knows the TV rules
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He also acknowledged that his British sensibility where song choices were concerned may have been a bit off the mark. “I learned that I’m not American — that was a big factor of where I got things right and where I got things wrong,” said Simon, revealing that as recently as the previous night, he had changed Melanie’s song because he believed “it was too British and too old for her — I’m trying to think American,” he added.

And where entertainment is concerned, Simon certainly has a winning record, one he plans to repeat with this year’s finale. On deck: each finalist will duet with a star they admire, a few Top 10 alums will do the same (THR revealed one such pairing on Friday), guest performers include Ne-Yo and Pitbull and a couple more that have yet to be revealed (negotiations are ongoing).

PHOTOS: Behind the scenes with Simon Cowell's right-hand woman

All that aside "With these three, this will be the greatest final ever in terms of talent,” Simon promised. “No one could call this show… Amazing vocalists, great recording artists, I’m more excited about this week than anything for a long while and one of these artists will be the legacy for this year. This is $5 million talent.”

What do you think is the biggest mistake the judges have made? Share your thoughts on the Facebook page for our TV blog, The Clicker.

Copyright 2012 The Hollywood Reporter

Video: Will Nicole return for season 2 of 'X Factor'?

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