The X Factor Season 3 Premiere Recap: Nothing Left Standing, Nothing Left of Yesterday

The-X-Factor-Season-3-Premiere-RecapChange has descended on The X Factor like flies to a discarded chunk of shawarma.

Mario Lopez has given up his suits for a collection of colorful v-neck t-shirts and traded Khloe Kardashian for a more qualified block of empty space. Someone has mercifully pressed the mute button on Booming Voiceover Man. And with the ouster of Britney Spears, the Season 3 judges’ panel is blissfully free of people you wouldn’t trust to mentor a child microwaving a hot dog, much less a kiddo hellbent on traveling the road to music superstardom and/or a failed record deal.

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Oh sure, Simon Cowell still giggles at the bad auditions like it’s 2002 and no one has ever unironically choked the life out of a Whitney Houston ballad on national television. And yeah, there’s still a smattering of faux vérité footage in which contestants try to pretend a producer isn’t standing five feet away with a cue card that reads, “This is really it, mom!” But credit must be given where it’s due, and at the very least, The X Factor‘s Season 3 premiere clocked in at a single hour and gave us four reasonably promising acts in the process.

And actually, without further ado, let’s get down to the business of discussing ’em — from least- to most promising:

4. Rion Paige | Adorable 13-year-old with a congenital disorder called arthrogryposis (which has caused deformities in the joints of her hands) certainly had no shortage of confidence and charisma, but much like Season 1’s Rachel Crowe, her shtick felt just a teensy bit scripted. And while there’s no denying Rion’s got big pipes for her age, I was baffled by Simon Cowell’s prediction that she could have a career on the scale of Carrie Underwood. I can’t be the only one who noticed that her rendition of “Blown Away” got noticeably shrill on the chorus, can I?

3. Carlito Olivero | Super handsome barista definitely looked the part of a pop star and stayed mostly in tune, too. But the question looms whether his upper register is naturally chipmunk-y or if it was merely nerves creeping into his tone. Also: Dude definitely needs a better slogan than “Latino Chris Brown,” because, y’know, Chris Brown puts the “ewww” in “dubious.”

2. Lillie McCloud (pictured) | Holy portrait in the attic, Dorian! If this is what 54 looks like, then clearly I need an upgrade from my Clean & Clear Morning Burst face wash to whatever Lillie uses on the daily. Natural gorgeousness and catsuit-ready bod aside, though, Lillie’s appeal runs far deeper than her packaging. As new judge Kelly Rowland observed, Lillie managed to take a song most of the audience didn’t know (CeCe Winans’ “Alabaster Box”) and make each and every one of ’em feel it right down to their toes. The woman knows how to caress a melody and why restraint’s as vital as a well-placed run, and her lower register is more magical than David Copperfield.

1. Alex & Sierra | Acoustic covers of “Toxic” may be totally “two thousand and late” — yes, I just quoted Fergie, because she’s a boss — but I can’t help but love this aw-shucks pair of lovebirds anyway. Their harmonies were as tighter than Simon Cowell’s t-shirts (circa 2004), and Sierra’s palpable mid-performance shock at the audience’s enthusiasm was as cute as it was comical. She’s got the more distinctive tone (kinda like The Voice‘s Caroline Glaser, no?) but Alex’s Mark Ruffalo-iness might be their secret weapon come voting time.

And on that note, I turn things over to you. What did you think of The X Factor Season 3 premiere? Who was your favorite successful auditioner? Take our poll below, then expand on your opinion in the comments!