‘X Factor’: Simon Cowell X’s Out Xander Alexander

But Melanie Amaro wins the judges over with a powerful Beyoncé cover.

If Wednesday night’s “X Factor” premiere focused primarily on positive auditions and warm-and-fuzzy backstories, Thursday’s (September 22) episode upended that formula by highlighting failed singers and auditions that went nowhere.

The episode began in Miami, where not even a pep talk from Gloria Estefan could rile up any good fortune for the masses. A parade of hapless singers marched before the judges, with some of their stories backed by the sort of cozy instrumental beds that usually foreshadow a pass from the judges, only to have them, in the end, not quite pass muster with Simon Cowell and his crew. It wasn’t until halfway through the first hour when the first singer was given the thumbs up to go to the next round.

That contestant was 21-year-old Nick Voss, who sported a modified Vanilla Ice haircut and looked a bit like onetime “One Tree Hill” hunk Tyler Hilton. With a hip-swiveling version of Elvis Presley’s “Trouble,” he impressed L.A. Reid, got Simon Cowell to say he “loved” him and prompted Nicole Scherzinger to dub him “Jim Carrey meets Jerry Lee Lewis, with a sprinkle of Elvis.” He earned a green light to the next round.

Following a quickie montage of singers who made it through — including girl group 2Squar’d, soprano Jeremiah Pagan and bearded music instructor Brendan O’Hara — viewers were introduced to Melanie Amaro, the evening’s standout who stopped the room cold with her impassioned take on Beyoncé’s “Listen.” Amaro wasn’t given a hard-luck backstory or presented as a singer making her last ditch effort to sing for her life; she was simply a solid performer with strong vocal chops who managed to knock out the judges with her voice. Said Reid: “You have the gift, you have the soul, you have the spirit, you have the swagger. You have the X factor.” Paula Abdul said Amaro’s vocals were like nothing she’s ever heard “in any audition that I’ve ever been on,” and Cowell went so far as to say singers like Amaro were the reason he brought “The X Factor” to the United States. And instantly, the competition’s early front-runner was born.

The second hour came from the show’s Dallas auditions, with more hopeless singers appearing before the judges. A good deal of time was spent on the story of Dexter Haygood, a 49-year-old entertainer who could give Wednesday contestant Siameze Floyd a run for his money in the would-be James Brown department. The discovery of Dallas was 21-year-old Caitlyn Koch, a rugby player in her off-time who reinvented the Supremes’ “Stop! In the Name of Love” as a piano ballad, the first time we’ve seen a singer do a top-to-bottom makeover on a song so far. Koch was given four “yes” votes from the panel and lived to see another day.

Thursday’s episode closed with a singer who called himself Xander Alexander, a sassy 27-year-old who claimed he wanted to be “the next Donald Trump meets Martha Stewart without the jail time, meets Britney Spears meets Beyoncé without the ugly husband.” He has a way with words, we’ll give him that, but ultimately his tongue got him in trouble with Cowell, who didn’t appreciate his constant backtalk (at one point, he referred to Cowell as “Simone”). Alexander’s segment looked like it was going to build toward a happy ending for the performer despite his toxic attitude, but the judges pulled the rug out from underneath him at the last minute by not sending him through and ending the episode on a down note. Maybe we don’t know everything there is to know about this show yet after all.

What did you think of Thursday’s episode of “The X Factor”? Let us know in the comments!