Rion Paige is not the typical reality television star. The thirteen-year-old Jacksonville native suffers from arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, a disease that has left her wrist joints deformed. Though the disease makes seemingly simple tasks—drinking a glass of water, opening blinds—difficult, Paige has never had a problem with stage fright.
“I first started singing in the backseat of my mom’s car, even before I could talk,” she says. “She would turn on the radio and I would just sort of sing made-up words.”
All that practice paid off when, in September 2013, Paige auditioned for Fox’s The X-Factor. Judge Simon Cowell called her “literally extraordinary” (a pretty big deal in the world of televised singing competitions) and Paige eventually made it to the show’s Top Six. Though she was voted off in early December, Paige remained a crowd favorite and now spends her time performing all over the country.
• Her 2013 X Factor performances might have been her most-viewed, but performing onstage is nothing new for Paige. “I started singing karaoke when I was really young and it got to the point—around age seven or eight—where I was performing at a karaoke bar every Friday night.”
• She knew she wanted to audition for the X Factor the day she saw the season two finale. Her mom, Alisa, wasn’t easily persuaded. “I realized they were holding auditions in Charleston and they accepted people as young as 12, so I knew I had to do it. My mom was really indecisive. She had me make a little book explaining why I wanted to do this. I researched the music industry, contracts, making an album, and put it all together in a binder. Once she saw all of the information I had collected, and that I was serious about it, she finally said OK.”
• “The day I auditioned for the X Factor was one of the most nerve-wracking days ever. While you’re in the waiting room, you just hear all these people screaming and you wonder, ‘How many people are actually in there?’ The producers won’t tell you anything.” When she finally made it backstage, her nerves got even worse. “I was watching the people before me on the monitor and the judges just kept saying, ‘No.’ I was nervous I would forget the words but I figured, I just have to be me. And then I ended up getting a standing ovation and Simon said it was literally one of the best auditions he’d ever witnessed.”
• “In five years, I hope that I have a recording contract and can continue to make a difference in people’s lives. I want to inspire people. Whether you have a disability or not, life will throw you curveballs, but there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.”
• When she’s in town, Paige enjoys riding bikes with her brother, participating in her church youth group and exploring the city. “I love meeting different people and Jacksonville has people from all walks of life. There’s a lot of ground to cover, but I’m up for the challenge.” We have no doubts about that.