The fourth night of “X Factor” brought the crew to Greensboro, North Carolina, which made Southern girl Britney Spears feel right at home again. But the welcome mat got soggy by episode’s end, when violent storms rattled the new judge’s nerves, but not before she gave an enthusiastic thumbs up to a surprise budding country star, a soulful rocking dad and a pop diva in the making who had to make a tough choice before her audition.
High-top twang: Despite Louisiana native Willie Jones, 17, driving 14 hours to get to his audition, nobody saw him coming. Pulling a Scotty McCreery, Jones busted out some baritone country swag on the same song that helped the 2011 “American Idol” champ take the crown, Josh Turner’s “Your Man (Baby Lock Them Doors).” L.A. Reid called him an “absolute original,” which was hard to deny given Jones’ zig-zag high-top fade and sleeveless American flag denim vest. Simon Cowell said he had a “sensational” recording voice and was destined for stardom.
One-woman band: Julia Bullock, 18 came with her band (which included a clearly still-pining ex-boyfriend), but ditched them for a solo audition. She chose right, putting a sexy, poised No Doubt smolder on Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks.” Cowell loved her image, taste and said she was just “really, really good,” and encouraged her to leave the backing musicians behind.
Hair apparent: Simon said on Wednesday night that he never wants to hear another cover of Adele. And he wasn’t feeling it when 21-year-old hairdresser Krysten Colon slow-waltzed through a too-samey “Don’t You Remember.” He asked Colon to come back later, giving her a rare second shot. After picking a new song, she went with the gigantic “I Have Nothing” by Whitney Houston. And, as it turned out, that’s pretty much what she had, as her confidence, and pitch, seemed shot. The off-key re-do elicited disturbed, sour lemon looks from Spears and Demi Lovato, and ended in an ugly backstage tantrum by Colon.
Dad rock: Broke single dad Jeffrey Gutt, 36, went with an audition staple, Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” which seemed like a bad idea. But he put a gritty gospel rock stank on it that got the crowd on their feet and nearly brought a tear to Spears’ eye. Cowell has heard it a million times, but said it was one of the most brilliant versions he’s witnessed.
Demi digs it: She loved Jones’ “sick” rock star style, dubbing it very “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” She also praised the amazing grit in Gutt’s voice, which she said made his rendition totally unique. “God’s even rocking out right now,” she said to chuckles from Cowell.
Spears simmers: When she wasn’t dropping the f-bomb and freaking out about violent thunderstorms that cut the lights due to lightning strikes, Spears had a few interesting words of praise. “I love how mysterious your voice was, it was really soothing and unique,” she told Gutt.