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'X Factor' Premiere Recap: Kelly Rowland, Paulina Rubio Make Their Judging Debuts

It may be all about the talent, but Wednesday's season-three kickoff highlighted the chemistry of Simon Cowell's new female-dominated panel.

The X-Factor Season 3 Premiere Episodic - H 2013
FOX
"X Factor" standout Lillie McCloud

Season three of The X Factor got underway on Wednesday, and while Simon Cowell, Demi Lovato, Kelly Rowland and Paulina Rubio were looking for America's next superstar, our eyes were on the judges panel to see how this year's female-dominated group would stack up to panels past.

Indeed, Cowell did well with X Factor U.K. alum Rowland and the wild card, Latina songstress Rubio. The "Don't Say Goodbye" singer found herself -- er, her accent -- the butt of continuous jokes during the first broadcast, a trend that we can only imagine will continue long into the season. Rowland, meanwhile, seems to be right at home on Cowell's right-hand side (a seat occupied last year by Lovato). The foursome seem genuinely comfortable together and have a chemistry that blows Britney Spears out of the water.

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When it came to the talent, only a few seemed to stand out. Among the top contenders from Wednesday's episode was Chicago native Carlito Olivero, 23, who currently brews coffee but aims to one day be the "Latino Chris Brown" -- ironically, singing Rihanna's "Stay" for his audition.

Thirteen-year-old Rion Paige drew raves from the judges for her rendition of Carrie Underwood's "Blown Away." Born with a disorder that affects her joints, forcing her hands to rest in a different position, and partially blind, Paige wore a short black dress, brown cowboy boots and a big smile. Lovato told her, "I think everyone in this room could learn something from you today."

Said Cowell: "I think you're literally extraordinary, I really do. I remember the first day I met Carrie Underwood and I remember predicting that this girl was going to go on and do special things and I'm going to say the same about you, Rion."

STORY: 'X Factor's' Kelly Rowland: 'This Isn't About the Judges, It's About the Talent'

There was one moment where Spears' presence was missed. About halfway through the program -- and in between overly cute, sugary sweet exchanges -- real-life couple Alex and Sierra gave the pop star's iconic "Toxic" a slow, dreamy makeover that arguably improves upon the original.

But the gold star of the show undoubtedly belongs to 54-year-old Lillie McCloud of Orlando, who prompted Lovato to declare "I feel like I'm listening Whitney" as she sang CeCe Winans' "Alabaster Box." Asked Rowland: "Where you been hidin'?"

And true to form, Cowell had plenty of zingers to go around. "I've just been told, Sally, that 8,000 dogs have tried to get into the venue," he told one contestant. To a female family trio, he said: "Do you rehearse at home? Do you live near an airport? You can't have ever heard yourself sing."

E-mail: Sophie.Schillaci@THR.com
Twitter: @SophieSchillaci