updated 07/10/2012 AT 11:00 AM ET
•originally published 07/10/2012 AT 12:25 PM ET
During Monday’s auditions in Greensboro, N.C., Spears stormed off the set as a man, dressed partially as a woman, rocked through one of her hits, “(You Drive Me) Crazy.”
Spears, 30, looked stunned throughout the performance, as fellow judge L.A. Reid patted her on the back. Judges Demi Lovato and Simon Cowell also couldn’t contain their reactions, as they covered their faces with their hands.
And neither could the crowd – but they seemed to be instant fans of the audition.
While Reid and Lovato followed the pop star off the set, Cowell stayed behind. “I don’t think she quite understood your tribute,” he told the singer, who wore cat glasses, a bedazzled jean jacket, boots and his hair tucked in a bun.
“I had to fight real hard to get here,” the tearful singer told the judges, adding that he was recently on welfare and nearly missed his X Factor call because he couldn’t afford his phone bill.
“I really respect the tribute,” Spears said when she returned to the judges’ table. “It was really nice.”