Simon Cowell Talks 'X Factor' Judges, Susan Boyle And Rebecca Black
Breathlessly waiting to find out just who will take the judges' chairs on "The X Factor"? Following all the rumors? Good. All of them are true.
The Huffington Post spoke to the "American Idol" alum and executive producer of the British import singing competition, "The X Factor." Scheduled to begin its run this fall, the rumor mill is burning up over who is going to join him on the show. Already, record exec LA Reid, whom Cowell raves about, is signed up; rumors have also had old friend Paula Abdul, rapper Nicki Minaj and Jessica Simpson joining up, as well.
Each rumor, Cowell says, is leaked by his company after he meets with the candidates, so if you've heard it, chances are there's at least been a meeting. It'll take a lot to sit in that judge's chair, Cowell says, and there's a lot at stake: a $5 million prize. With age limits and genre limitations more or less out the window, it's a wide open competition, something Cowell believes will bring the next big thing to the public's attention.
Q: You haven't announced the judges beyond LA Reid, but when you're deciding on the judges, are you going for celebrity or are you going for someone who can maybe make a more honest assessment and help find the best star?
Cowell: First of all, you've got to trust the people you're working with, and actually you've got to like the people, because you're going to be working with them for a long time. It's a difficult process because you want to have people who have different views, you want to have people on there who are fun to watch, people who aren't afraid to argue with me or stand up for the contestants. So you're trying to find everything, really. And what's made this process a long, drawn out process is that a lot of people were keen to be on the show. So it makes the decision that much harder.
Normally in the past, certainly on the shows we've done in the UK, we've kind of got the balance right. I was never interested in signing celebrities just for the sake of it, because I think that in the case of someone like LA Reid, even though a lot of people won't know who he is, he is actually a fascinating guy and I think a lot of people will like the fact that they're discovering him on the show.
Q: You had some people who maybe weren't huge celebrities when they went to judge American Idol, so do you think your judges will become celebrities in their own right once they're on the show?
Cowell: Yeah, I think someone like LA in particular. I've known the guy a long time, and every time I was in his company, I always found him fascinating and interesting, and I just liked spending time with him because he's very knowledgable, and he just has a lot of charisma and I think America will find him interesting. So I was never a fan of thinking, I need to hire celebrities to bring in an audience, I wanted to put together a group of people who as a whole, people would want to watch, week after week.
Q: You said a lot of people were keen to be on the show. Who was interested?
Cowell: Mostly the names that are out there. The media have got it because our company leaks any information -- if we meet anybody, the whole world knows about it. But I don't have a problem with that. It's been an interesting process, and one of the things that you have to take in account is that on this show, you are mentoring contestants at the end, when you're choosing their material, what they're going to wear, which choreographer they're going to work with, and that takes up an awful amount of time and energy, and you've got to have that commitment. So you've got to take that into account as well. But at the end of the day, you trust your gut feeling to put together a panel that's going to work, and the most important thing is, people will decide, once they watch the show, whether we've made the right decision or the wrong decision.
Q: You're not only deciding judges; these judges are going to be awarding a $5 million contract. Why do you think your show will be able to beat out other shows to find the best talent? Will it be because of the judges? What about your show will be able to find the next big star?
Cowell: I think it's partly, you get the word out, what are you looking for, why you're going to be different, what are you offering people when they win the competition and that's why we put the $5 million up early to really say to people look, we really are taking this process seriously. And this is from a record company point of view, that what we want to find at the end is someone who can be a legitimate star in their own right and sell records all over the world. I actually believe that it's possible, but you've got to find people who wouldn't normally enter these type of shows, who've worked out themselves the kind of artist they want to be, and actually what they need more than anything else is exposure.
Q: Well what about someone like Susan Boyle in the UK -- you probably wouldn't have seen her on "American Idol," and I know you're opening the floodgates for someone maybe someone like that here. Do you think America would have voted for or fallen in love with someone like that initially?
Cowell: 100%. I was in Los Angeles when the show opened in the UK, so I was watching it from an American perspective, and most of the instant pickup was actually from the American media and they were really responsible for turning her into a star. That story, I mean, it resonates anywhere around the world. It's a good old fashioned, good luck story, and it was one of the reasons why we were determined there was never going to be an upper age limit on this show. Because the charts today reflect all different types of ages, genres of music, and you've got to be as open minded as possible.
Q: In your ideal world, what kind of artist would you land?
Cowell: Well you want somebody who doesn't really exist at the moment. Because there's no point in trying to find the next Lady Gaga, it won't be as good, and the same applies to Justin Bieber or Katy Perry or Adele. You want to find someone like a Carrie Underwood or a Liona Lewis, when they walk onto your show, you go, apart from the fact that I think you're going to win, you're going to have a career.
Susan Boyle, interestingly, what this show did to change her life -- she told 20 million records in two years, and it's all because she entered a show like this and people supported her. So it can lead to fantastic things, providing you are open minded and as many people turn up as possible, and you've given yourself half a chance. Because if everyone's useless or they're boring, we don't have a show.
Q: You just named a number of pop stars; would it be okay if you ended up with someone who is more of a rapper or rocker, or a totally different genre?
Cowell: Sure. And again, that's part of the reason why we put LA on the panel. Because when LA was running his labels in the US, he had to deal with a lot of different types of music. He's very opened minded, he's got great, broad taste. And I think most of the people I've ever worked with on these shows, regardless of whether you're into rap, country, whatever, if you're good, you know.
And interestingly, in the auditions, and I've done this deliberately, I've put the auditions into arenas where I've got 3 or 4,000 people sitting behind me. And they help you make that decision as well. When someone is good, you feel it instantly. It really does help you with the judging process.
Q: So you think that the public definitely knows best.
Cowell: Of course! They're the people who buy records. Our job is to be a filter, and to hopefully recognize someone who may not have got it all together, either chosen the wrong song, don't look right, or haven't worked out the kind of artist they want to be. But at the end of the day, you have to trust the public on this.
Q: That was kind of the crux of your argument in that debate you had with Elton John, where you said look, we're helping people who haven't had that opportunity, and this is what the public wants. Is it okay that you don't go through the whole dusty clubs and that type of thing?
Cowell: Well, I think you're going to see this I think with a lot of the older contestants coming on the show -- it's not for want of trying. Anyone who wants to be successful, normally, will try all different routes. What's happened with our shows is we've given some people, and Susan Boyle is a great example, a second or final chance. And there's room for everyone in the charts right now. With what Apple has done to the music industry, you have a very, very big chart, which changes on an hourly basis. So, there's no overcrowding. Anyone who's good has now got a chance to sell records. So the fact that you're begrudging anyone the chance to better their lives is ridiculous.
Q: Right, and why go through the tough times if you don't have to?
Cowell: Well, that's the world we live in at the moment. You look at Rebecca Black, three weeks ago no one's heard of her, now she's one of the most famous people in America. That's the world we live in now.
Q: What are your thoughts on her? Are people bullying her? Do you think she's a legitimate talent, do you think it's legitimate fame?
Cowell: I wish her all the success in the world, this girl. She hasn't done anything wrong. She posted her song on the internet, people reacted to it very quickly, they either liked it or hated it, but for her, I'd call that a high class problem. I mean, she's going to be at a hundred million views by the end of the week. That's the world you live in now, people have got opinions. And I think when you're in a situation where you polarize people, I think sometimes, that's when you become huge.
Q: As someone who has an eye for talent, in this internet age, do you think things like that are sustainable, or is it just ride that wave while you can?
Cowell: I think it works for both sides. You look at someone like Katy Perry and Lady Gaga, who definitely, the internet definitely helped them in terms of the kind of artist they are. And then in contrast, you see someone like Adele, who is just kind of a timeless artist, who could have worked 20 years ago, 30 years ago, and it works today, because she's quality. And this is my point -- there is so much open mindedness and so much room for different types of artists at the moment, that this is a healthy time to be making a show like this, and that's the reason why we took away as many rules as possible to sort of reflect what's happening in the world today. And to not be sort of snippy about any type of genre of music. If you're good, you've got the public behind you, good luck to you and enjoy the $5 million bucks.
Q: They certainly will do that.
Cowell: In a way it's going to be funny. I said this to somebody yesterday, often on these shows, particularly on the final, you have people saying we don't care if we win or lose, it's about taking part, but when you've got $5 million, it matters.
Q: Do you ever believe it, when people say that?
Cowell: Never! Absolutely never in a million years. It's like when people, when you have the close ups at the Oscars, and it's not them and they're pretending to be happy, inside, they're dying!
Want to try your luck at the $5 million prize? Auditions begin March 27th in Los Angeles, then move to Miami, Newark, Seattle, Chicago and Dallas. For more info, including dates and locations, click over to Fox.