Welcome to the new season of The X Factor! I’m excited to be covering the show for BuddyTV this season despite never seeing it before, but I’ve recapped American Idol and The Voice, so it’s basically the same thing. Plus with two new judges and some format changes, I’m sure it’s like a brand-new show anyway. Maybe one of these days Simon Cowell will get the formula just right.

Joining Cowell on the panel for season 3 are returning judge Demi Lovato (who will be pulling double duty on FOX with a recurring role on Glee) as well as newcomers Paulina “Cheap Imitation Shakira” Rubio and Kelly “Destiny’s Middle Child” Rowland. Buckle up, X Factor fans, cuz I plan on packing $1 million worth of snark into this year’s coverage.

X Factor Interview: Kelly Rowland on Simon Cowell, the Judges’ Chemistry and the Talent >>>

The season 3 premiere opens by touting how many huge stars The X Factor has produced. It helps when you can count the U.K. version, because One Direction singlehandedly pads those stats nicely. Something tells me Tate Stevens isn’t a big part of those impressive numbers.

Mario Lopez is looking fine as ever, especially since, just like Lamar, he’s Khloe-less. This season is going back to dividing the categories by gender, with Boys, Girls, Over 25s and Groups. In the premiere we see one act in each of the categories, and it’s going to be a tough battle between them. Well, except the Boys.

The Judges

Simon Cowell believes he’s back in control, probably because he’s surrounded by young, inexperienced women to make himself look smarter. Demi Lovato is looking for the sparkle in the contestants’ eyes, which may or may not be code for “Cute boys I can flirt with.”

Kelly Rowland wants passion while Paulina is trying to find a “silver star,” or perhaps it’s a superstar. I can already tell that her Charo-esque accent is gonna bug me all season, as is the fact that her face is pulled back tighter than Simon’s t-shirts.

Carlito Olivero

Carlito is a happy-go-lucky 23-year-old coffee boy. His positivity is so infectious that I’ll forgive him for wanting to be the “Latino Chris Brown” while singing Rihanna‘s “Stay,” which feels like a conflict of interests. What I can’t forgive is the audience, who cheer like maniacs after every single line. He’s good and smooth, but I’m distracted by the veins in his neck which I fear might pop at any moment like Seth Green in that episode of Grey’s Anatomy.

Simon thinks he looks like a real star, because that’s all that matters. All the judges say “Yes” and Carlito is off to the next round.

The Bad and Peachy Audition Montage

We then get a series of awful auditions, none of which are particularly impressive. Sally Hessnice is a crazy old lady who reminds me of a homeless Ellen Greene without the talent. Vincent Crisostomo is a rapper who sings LeAnn Rimes. Then there’s a recent high school graduate who I think Demi wants to flirt with, but as soon he opens his mouth, her legs shut like a bear trap. The only good thing to come out of this segment is that we discover Paulina pronounces “pitchy” as “peachy.” Peachy Dawgs would be a great name for a band. Or a food truck specializing in gourmet hot dogs. Or a mobile canine-grooming company.

Lillie McCloud

Lillie is 10 percent woman, 90 percent afro. The fact that she’s 54 (with seven grandkids) proves that “black don’t crack,” because she looks half that. She also looks like she should be delivering karate kicks to cracker honkeys in a ’70s blaxploitation movie.

She sings CeCe Winans’ “Alabaster Box,” and it’s pure gospel greatness. This woman is for real, and she has the beautiful texture and power that only comes with age and experience. Simon compares her to Gladys Knight and Demi compares her to Whitney. Usually I hate those kinds of crazy comparisons, but I have to agree on this one. Naturally, all the judges say “Yes.”

Alex and Sierra

After a montage of terrible groups (including a large black woman who molests Simon), we meet this adorable dating couple. Their first interaction with the judges tells you everything you need to know.

Simon: “Brother and sister?”
Alex: “No, we kiss, so that’d be weird.”

As cold and black as my heart is, I can’t help but love these two. Like Simon, I thought this was gonna be corny, but they’re actually cool and quirky. For example:

Kelly: “Y’all are really cute.”
Sierra: “Thanks. So are you. … All.”
Alex: “Good save.”

They do a languid, acoustic version of Britney Spears’ “Toxic” that is very cool (not as cool as the version of my college’s all-female a cappella group did, but close). She sings first and she’s wonderfully smoky. I feared Alex was just being kept around as eye candy for the ladies (he’s got a Reid Scott vibe, the guy who plays Dan on HBO’s Veep), but once he joins in, he’s every bit as good as she is.

I love them, I love their sound, and I love everything about Alex and Sierra. Except for the fact that he tucks his dress shirt into his khaki pants like he’s temping at a law office. But he’ll have plenty of time to work on that since all the judges said “Yes.”

Rion Paige

This bubbly little girl has a condition called arthrogryposis multiplex congentia (AMC) which basically results in curved joints, meaning her hands are all messed up and she’s almost permanently blind in one eye. It’s one of those triumphant Oprah stories where a little girl overcomes a serious medical condition with such warmth and humor that it lifts your spirits.

But this is a singing competition, and I’m not about to give a cute little girl a free pass just because of her inspirational story of struggle. I’m going to judge her just as harshly as I would anyone else. Luckily for me, that doesn’t become an issue when she stars singing Carrie Underwood‘s “Blown Away” and is truly stunning.

She’s great. Really great. And not just for some little kid, and not just for someone who’s had to overcome a serious handicap. She’s great for anyone. Simon hits the nail on the head by saying “I think you’re literally extraordinary.” He then predicts the same big things for her that he predicted the first time he saw Carrie Underwood. She’s moving on to the next round, and probably a lot farther than that.

So after one episode of The X Factor season 3, I already have three acts that I want to see make it all the way to the end. That’s a pretty impressive start, and with Rion, Lillie and Alex and Sierra in the mix, I don’t envy the judge who gets stuck with the Boys.

Want to add The X Factor to your very own watch-list? Download BuddyTV Guide for free for your phone.

(Image courtesy of FOX)

John Kubicek

Senior Writer, BuddyTV

John watches nearly every show on TV, but he specializes in sci-fi/fantasy like The Vampire DiariesSupernatural and True Blood. However, he can also be found writing about everything from Survivor and Glee to One Tree Hill and Smallville.