updated 11/21/2013 AT 6:00 PM ET
•originally published 11/21/2013 AT 2:15 PM ET
It feels good to be back – and a little odd.
“It’s quite strange being back on X Factor because you kind of know what the contestants go through and know what to expect next also,” Payne told PEOPLE backstage after Wednesday night’s show. “You know all the emotions they’re going through.”
But he adds that he enjoyed being back with hopeful stars.
“It’s just nice talking to them and getting their vibe,” he said. “There are very talented people this year.”
One contestant particularly thrilled about the special star encounter? Khaya Cohen, the “Let It Be” singer who says the reason she auditioned for the show in the first place is because one of her friends is obsessed with the 1D guys and forced her to try out after watching them compete on the series.
“I never thought much about them, but we saw them during their sound check, so when we saw them on stage … I love them,” Cohen gushed. “So, I’m going home tonight, I’m watching the movie, downloading the music. I got pictures of Niall [Horan] and Harry [Styles] and they were both really nice and really cute. I want to hang out with them more. I look like a fan girl when I see them because we only get like two seconds to talk to them.”