Simon Cowell started the interview with a strong and forceful, “Bring it on.” For a moment I thought he’s back but by the end of the interview he was all soft and mushy. It was refreshing to hear the King of Mean utter the words, “I miss you guys. I’m glad we’re coming back.”
“I’d love to find something different,” stated Simon Cowell.
It seems like everything Simon Cowell touches turns gold. And as he eloquently described the X Factor as that special something that is difficult to express, Cowell is the X Factor. Cowell is behind some of America’s most successful talent shows, and although he is no longer a judge on the American Idol, he will be missed. Simon Cowell possesses that special something, je ne saia quoi if you will, and he has translated it on the popular America Idol and hopes to do the same on the X Factor. In the case of the X Factor, the judges will be looking for that special something that sets each contestant apart from the crowd.
In 2009 when Cowell announced his departure from Idol as judge, we thought that was the last time we would see him behind the panel judging contestants. Surprisingly, in our interview with America’s favorite TV judge, Cowell confirmed that he will be one of the judges on the highly anticipated talent show, The X Factor. And don’t expect his judging style to change much.
“Yes. I’m going to try to be consistent to how I’ve been over the years. So that’s the way I’m going to approach it. People know what to expect if I’m on the judging panel, so I don’t see things are going to change too much,” stated Cowell.
Cowell will not be alone as judge, however they are still deciding who the final judges will be. He is a fan of Paula Abdul but would not confirm if she would sit next to him on the panel.
“I’m a massive fan of Paula. It’s quite unusual – when you work with somebody for as long as I did with Paula, we were friends on the show for I’d say 80% of the time, and then interestingly, afterwards we’ve been in regular contact. So I’m a big fan of hers. I’m not going to say today who we are going to confirm or who we’re not going to confirm because the truth is, we honestly haven’t made our minds up yet. We’re talking to a number of people, and I expect to make an announcement I would say within three to four weeks – it might be a little bit longer, I’m not sure – as to who the panel are going to be,” he said.
The X Factor premieres this fall like it has been for seven years in the U.K. and promises a very different live experience to anything you’re used to seeing on American TV.
And to put his mouth where his money is ($5 million, that is ), the winner of the X Factor will be awarded $5 million which will be distributed over a 5 years period.
“I think it should be a life-changing prize. Just to be clear, this is not dressed-up $5 million; this is a guaranteed $5 million payable to the winner. The recording costs, the marketing costs, the video costs are completely separate to that. It will be paid over five years, $1 million a year for five years, and on top of the Sony label getting behind the artist, we will also be offering financial support for the winner so they don’t have to invest their money, look after their money, because that’s a lot of cash.”
Simon also expressed how nervous he is about putting that kind of money up as an incentive but is also confident that it is the right thing to do.
“By putting up that kind of prize money, it’s a massive, massive risk, but it’s also an incredible incentive. I think it puts everybody, rightly, under an enormous amount of pressure, because I didn’t want to go into this show without feeling a certain amount of pressure. With pressure, you have to find a star. I also did it because I believe I can find a star. I’m nervous, but I’m also confident that it was the right thing to do,” stated Simon.
Young Guys, Young Girls, Older Singers and Vocal Groups Who Have What It Takes To Be a Global Superstar Are All Invited
Auditions Begin Sunday, March 27, in Los Angeles; Chicago, Dallas, Miami, New York/New Jersey and Seattle Also to Host Auditions
Sign Up Now for Audition Information at www.fox.com/theXfactor
It seems like everything you touch turns to gold. What do you think that you have that enables you to do so well at spotting talent like Leona Lewis and doing unique programs like THE X FACTOR?
Simon Cowell: Well, thank you. Thanks for saying that. Well, first of all, I put my trust in the audience, I trust my gut feeling, I work with talented people, and essentially what I try to do now – because I have a choice – is I make shows I’d like to watch. We’ve been thinking about this show for a few years now, about whether we should do it or not do it in America, and we made the decision last year that we were going to do it. When we started the show seven years ago we had, I think, about eight or nine million people watching the final, and we have 50 million or 60 million people living in the U.K., and that was a lot. Then this year we got 20 million people watching. I never predicted when I stared that we would get those kinds of numbers. I think the same thing applies to America, which is it’s impossible to predict the size of the audience. Well, the reason we replaced IDOL with THE X FACTOR in the U.K. to begin with is that I got bored of just judging. I got frustrated when I kept criticizing people’s song choices, what they wore or what they didn’t do right. I wanted to make a show where I actually, along with my fellow judges, could help the competitors on a weekly basis, because that’s what I do in my real job. If you work for a record company you work with the artist on everything – their song choices, their stylists, their choreographers – and it made sense to me that we should do that on a TV show. The most important thing is I know you have to make a show which is different to what your competitors are doing. It has to be well made, it has to be controversial, interesting. If the U.S. show has some of the same qualities as what we’ve done in the U.K., then I think it could do really, really well, but I’ve learned to never take anything for granted. I kind of feel at the moment like I did when we were launching AMERICAN IDOL: I was excited about the show, I was excited about the prospects, but I hadn’t a clue whether it was going to be a hit or whether we were going to be kicked out of the country after three weeks. I remember the network put a one-month break clause in the house I was renting, which shows at the time I don’t think they were particularly convinced either. The important thing is, don’t take anything for granted. All you can do, which is what I’m going to do, is I’m going to give it 110% effort and I’ll do everything I can to make it the best show I possibly can. Then you hope the viewers like it. The reaction I’ve had from American people who’ve managed to watch the U.K. show has been very, very positive, and that’s one of the reasons why we decided to bring the show to America.
Now that I have my head around it, I’m excited and I think we’re going to do something different. I’m excited about it. The stakes are high, but I have no idea what it’s going to look like until I start shooting.
And how would you grade American Idol?
Well, I haven’t seen a full episode yet. I saw three minutes of a recap last week. I think from what I’ve seen, from what I’ve heard, it all seems to be going well. I always thought that would be the case. What I was more concerned about was the ratings falling off a cliff, meaning that that whole genre is now over. I think the good news is that people are still excited about these shows, whether it be that show, “Dancing with the Stars,” which has definitely gotten better over the years, “America’s Got Talent,” which the ratings have gone up over the years. People, thank god, still like these shows, and that gives me more confidence when we launch ours. I think the important distinction with THE X FACTOR is that it’s going to run in the fall, which it has done for seven years in the U.K. I like having these shows on at that time of the year running up until Christmas time. I think they’ve done a good job.
What is the X Factor?
It’s an all-around description. It’s an expression we’ve used over the years. I’d heard so many times about is it the look, is it the voice, and then over the years recently you’ve seen a different kind of artist emerge. A good example of that is Lady Gaga. Now, God only knows what we would have said to her if she’d have walked into IDOL three years ago with a lobster on her head. She’s got it. It’s not necessarily about perfection; it’s about having that special something and getting it right at the right time I think is an important part of having “the X factor” as well. That’s why we decided to call the show THE X FACTOR in the end. From Beyoncé to Rihanna to The Black Eyed Peas, the GLEE cast, Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, Usher, Lady Gaga, The Pussycat Dolls, Rihanna, Backstreet Boys, Shakira, Jonas Brothers, Pink, Jay-Z. They’ve all got it.
What sets The X Factor apart from other shows?
THE X FACTOR has a craziness about it. There’s an unpredictability about it. I would say it’s more raw. It’s very much more competitive because of the fact that the judges have to mentor. It’s more personal because there’s a point in the show where some of the finalists go to the judges’ homes and each judge will then make a selection as to who’s going into the finals. Then other aspects of the live show, which I don’t want to give away too much now, you’re going to see a very, very different live experience to anything you’re used to seeing on American TV.
It’s definitely more interesting for me because I have a lot more to do. Secondly, it’s an interesting thing, to be judged as well as the competitor. When you lose an artist, part of you has lost as well. When you’re artist wins, you win. It really does become incredibly competitive between the judges once the competition starts. In a way, they’re more competitive than the artist, because we don’t pretend to like each other.
Well, we made a decision a couple of years ago in the U.K. that I couldn’t fit in an audition room with two other people and judge properly. I’ve done it too many years and I wanted to change things up. So I made a decision that we would change the auditions so that each person or group would now have to audition not just in front of the judges, but in fact 4,000 or 5,000 people in an arena. Essentially, it was supposed to be similar to them doing their first concert. What it does, it really helped me to show who could handle the pressure, who was a good performer, and also, it was vital that I got audience feedback as well. There have been many, many times on these shows when I’ve hated somebody and I’ve practically had a mutiny going on behind me, where the audience went crazy that we didn’t put them through, and they have changed our minds. I’ve also seen, for instance with Susan Boyle, how an audience lifted her, and I think they were the ones responsible for turning her into a star. I don’t believe Susan Boyle would have gotten through in the old-fashioned audition method. I think it was the crowd and seeing them give her a standing ovation which is what made that clip so special. As I said, it really does help me make a decision because the person you want winning this competition or the group you want winning the competition, you want them to be performing in front of 5,000 or 10,000 people afterwards. I need to know right at the beginning whether they can cope with that. I think it’s one of those things – you have to watch it, and then I think you’re going to see the difference.
We understand that you are the executive producer of the show, will you also be a judge and will your judging style remain the same as on American Idol?
Yes. I’m described as an executive producer, you have a vision for the show, and that’s very important before you start because you have to, in your mind, make the kind of show you want to make, you have a view on that, and I have some strong views on that in terms of what it will look like, why it will be different to other shows, the kinds of people who I’d like to work alongside me. Once the show goes into production, I become a judge and I have to put my trust into the producers’ hands. That’s effectively how it works in the U.K. You adapt over the years. I started to cringe over the years when I started to see people being booked as the so-called mean judge and just being gratuitously rude for the sake of it. I don’t like that. I have my own style. I like to think that I’m honest. I wouldn’t sugarcoat something just to make myself popular. I’m going to try to be consistent to how I’ve been over the years. I say that mainly because of people you meet in the street, that you talk to, where they say, “We like hearing what you have to say, Simon, because we kind of think the same way as you.” So that’s the way I’m going to approach it. People know what to expect if I’m on the judging panel, so I don’t see things are going to change too much.
The age for contestants on the show is open, why have you decided to do so?
Simon Cowell: I thought long and hard about this, to be honest with you. I think probably five or six years ago I wouldn’t have done it. Through experience, when I worked on “Britain’s Got Talent” and what happened this year on “America’s Got Talent,” there are some incredibly talented young kids out there, and because I work for a record label, over the last 12 months we’ve started to see a trend of what kids this age are capable of doing, whether they can withstand the pressure. I went on record years ago saying I think it’s wrong to have people around this age doing it, and now I think times have changed. You have to make a case-by-case decision based on them as a person, whether they’re capable of doing this kind of thing, what their parental support is like. We had to make that decision on Jackie on “America’s Got Talent” runner-up. Once we were satisfied she was happy, the parents were happy, I think it was the right decision, and she’s on her way to a very, very successful career. I have started to see a new wave of how these kids are thinking. What’s quite interesting is 12-year-olds now, they didn’t watch AMERICAN IDOL in the beginning because they would have been about two or three. So they have their own opinions, they know what they’re doing, and you look at someone like Willow Smith – there’s a trend happening at the moment. I think it would have been wrong to exclude them. Again, I think it makes the competition more exciting, that maybe you’re going to find a 12-, 13-, 14-year-old genius performer who could be competing against a 45-year-old, and I like that idea.
If I didn’t believe there was one person who is a potential star sitting in America now, there’d be no point in making this show. I obviously believe there’s more than one. One of the biggest criticisms I had over the years were people in their 30s, 40s and 50s who said, “I have what it takes. I haven’t been given a chance. I know I have a phenomenal voice, but I haven’t had a chance to enter a competition.” I used to hear this over and over again. This is why we took the upper age limit off completely. I think we’re going to be surprised how much potential talent is out there. I just have a really, really good gut feeling about this. That’s what excites me more about doing this show than anything else, the prospect of finding somebody fantastic, and also with this format, helping them to become fantastic. Well, it can be challenging, but I said this, you just can’t put an age cap on talent. I think there are a lot of people who’ve missed an opportunity. I like the fact that they bring experience with them. I think it makes the audition, in a way, more interesting because you could argue it’s their last chance, so there’s more at stake. Perhaps they’re going to give a bit more. With Susan Boyle, who would have thought that this lady living on her own in Scotland would go on to sell 20 million records? I mean, it’s just typical of the record business saying you have to look this way or whatever, whatever, whatever. By the way, I was guilty of that. Susan Boyle taught me a huge lesson: that I have to be more open-minded. I think the American audience knows what talent is, and I don’t think it matters whether you’re in your 40s, 50s, 30s or you could be 14 years old. If you have it, you have it. And you only have to look at Madonna. I mean, she’s still one of the most influential artists in the world. It doesn’t matter how old she is. With this show, the format is a fairly simple format, which is, it’s open to all ages, we allow groups to compete, but it has to be, essentially, an all-American show with the commitment being to American talent.
As you can see there’s an enormous amount of variety. There’s young, old, but this is a good time, and I think it’s a great time for people to get out of their safety mode and show to us that they’re different, they’re unique. I’m most excited in a way about the groups. I’d love the idea of finding a great group at the moment. There’s a whole history of anything from the Jackson 5 to *NSYNC or recently, The Black Eyed Peas or Destiny’s Child selling all over the world, and that’s what I want to find on this show. I would even say to schools across the country – I’m seeing this a lot on YouTube now – how choirs have suddenly become really interesting, very contemporary, they have these great musical teachers they’re working with. I’d invite them to come along on audition as well. I’d love to find something like that, something different.