Born with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, a rare disorder that caused a curving of the joints in her wrist, Paige, 13, has grown up always knowing she is different.
“It was hard for me, as a little kid, to see other kids holding microphones and able to move around when we used to go to karaoke places, and I would have to have my mom hold the microphone,” Paige, whose first name is pronounced “Ryan,” tells PEOPLE.
“I just realized I needed to adapt and I was going to have to do things differently than everybody else.”
And learn she did. Cowell called her “literally extraordinary,” and compared her to American Idol winner Carrie Underwood, as the Jacksonville, Fla., student breezed through her initial X Factor audition in Charleston, N.C., which aired Wednesday on the Season 3 premiere.
“I had Rion really young,” says Paige’s mother, Alisa Thompson, 32. “I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, this is too much for me to bear. I don’t know how I’m going to be able to do this.’ I thought she might be introverted because of her difference. And then that baby showed me something different.”
Paige is also almost permanently blind in her right eye. She had eight eye surgeries before her second birthday, but her spirit was too strong to deny.
“She didn’t walk until she was 2 years old because it was difficult for her to get up straight from the ground without using her hands. But when she did, she ran across the room,” says Thompson. “That was Rion. Nothing has held her back in any way.”
Paige is hoping her X Factor journey will teach others with disabilities not to be held back either.
“A couple of minutes ago I got this message from this guy with a 3-year-old son with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, and he said I really inspired him,” she says. “So just to know that I’ve already gotten to reach just one person made all the difference.”
Paige will now vie for a spot as one of the finalists in the girls category against all the female solo acts under 25.
“[My hands] are something that I have to deal with every day. People can look at me and say, ‘Oh, her hands are different,’ but it is not who I am,” Paige says. “I’m not the girl with the hands. I’m Rion.”