Simon Cowell eating humble pie? He’ll do so willingly if the U.S. version of “The X Factor” tanks.
“If I can’t make it work after all this effort, I’ll admit that I failed,” he says.
Cowell’s got a lot riding on the success of the show, which he created in 2004 for UK television as a replacement for “American Idol’s” British forerunner “Pop Idol” and franchised around the world. He was prohibited from launching in America under his “Idol” contract. But now that he’s left his cozy/prickly berth on the judging panel, he’s eager to re-prove his Midas Touch for mining fresh talent, with ever bigger stakes than “Idol’s” on the line when the show launches on Fox next fall.
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“When we agree to do the show and we put the $5 million [record contract with Cowell’s company Syco and Sony Music Entertainment] up, that’s with a belief that you’re going to find somebody who’s going to have a long-lasting career – and it does happen; I’m not saying it happens every year,” says Cowell. “That’s why I’m going to a lot of effort to get the word out, to get as many people turning up as possible. Because if you get a year where everybody’s hopeless—and that has happened—you don’t have a show."
"You don’t just want somebody who wins the show and then they’re forgotten about," he adds. "Whether it’s Carrie Underwood or Susan Boyle or Leona Lewis, they’ve got a career. It’s a launch pad, so we’re working hard at it.”
Cowell’s also giving major scrutiny to the proper star wattage and dynamics of the four-person judging panel, which thus far only officially includes himself and uber-music producer L.A. Reid.
“The truth is we’re still having nightly arguments with everyone trying to get everyone to agree [on the hosts],” he says. “If you asked everyone involved on this show who they’d like as the panel, you’d have about 25 different opinions –and I’m used to this. I’ve done shows in the past where the day before filming we still haven’t agreed on the fourth judge, because people freak out: they have different ideas, another name comes into play. I’ve found the whole process really interesting, to see who’s enthusiastic about being on the show, and you get to see people’s commitment and enthusiasm. It’s been fun, but it really does show, publicly, our complete and utter indecisiveness.”
One judge panel possibility that’s been bandied about recently is Black Eyed Peas singer Fergie. “All I can tell you is that Fergie’s name was put forward, but like with a lot of other people we’ve spoken to, we have to check out everyone’s availability,” he confirms. “There’s a lot of time you have to put into the show, because it’s not a two-day a week job. When you’re in the live show, it’s because you’re mentoring the contestant. You’re working five or six days a week.”
And while some suggest that a far sunnier Simon surfaces on his “X Factor” appearances, he sniffs disdainfully at the thought of going easier on anyone than he did on “Idol.”
“You’ve got to remember that the audience at home is not stupid,’ he says, “so if you’ve got somebody in front of you who can’t sing a note in tune, nobody – certainly not me – is going to turn around and say ‘You’re wonderful’ or ‘Take a couple of singing lessons and you’re going to become a mega-star.’ That’s ridiculous. I’ve never believed in patronizing contestants. On this show, we’re going to say to everybody in advance ‘You know what the rules are. If you’re hopeless, we’ll tell you. If you’re great, we’ll tell you you’re great.’”
“You want to find great people, but there’s always going to be times when bad people come along or on the live shows they do something stupid. I think it’s my job to say that,” Cowells adds. “Otherwise, I think these shows become boring or fake, and it’s just not my style.” He does suggest that the judges will be employing far different criteria than most other reality competition shows. “We’ve got to be much more open-minded in terms of what we’re looking for. The whole idea of the show is you find the winner and it launches a career, which is going to last for a long time and hopefully, you sell records all over the world.”
“Otherwise,” he says in his most judge-like tone, “this whole exercise has been a complete waste of time.”