Simon Cowell Interview: 'The X-Factor' Judge Talks Paula Abdul, 'The Voice' Winner & Ryan Seacrest's New Enemy
With the premiere of Simon Cowell’s new talent competition “The X-Factor” just hours away, one wonders if Cowell’s latest project can stand up against other singing competitions, like NBC’s “The Voice” and FOX’s aging “American Idol.”
Already a national sensation in the U.K., “The X-Factor” has created some of the U.K.’s best selling artists, and music mogul Cowell is hoping to do the same in the U.S.
In many ways, the show is similar to Cowell’s former endeavor, “American Idol,” yet there are a few exceptions. For the first time, outside of “America’s Got Talent,” groups are allowed rather than only solo acts, and the age range is expanded to 12 and up, giving younger performers a chance to go after the massive $5 million prize for the winner.
Much like “The Voice,” the judges will mentor the talent -- and ultimately, the judges can become just as competitive as the contestants. Yet, for Cowell, “The X-Factor” doesn’t just mentor its contestants to win the show, it prepares them for competing with the superstars in the music industry.
“When you win, you have to be ready to take on the real winners -- the Beyonces, the Rihannas, the Justin Biebers, the Katy Perrys,” Cowell told The Huffington Post. “That’s the true test. We’re not only trying to find a star, but we’ve got to try and make them into stars, otherwise we’d live in a bubble. For our contestants, the competition is there to help them get used to how you’ve got to compete in real life. We give them a proper work schedule, so they know what’s entailed, and we work with them just like we do when we work with artists at a record label, and that’s why it’s such a better, more fun show to work on.”
But that doesn’t mean that Simon didn’t have to sit through hundreds of horrendously bad auditions to find his stars. In fact, after the premiere of “The Voice,” shows like “American Idol” and “The X-Factor” were criticized for its somewhat brutal audition process, which highlights both the extraordinary and the horribly awful.
Yet, for Cowell, it’s about finding those with interesting personalities.
“Well, they are not all bad,” said Cowell. “I can assure you that there are many more good than there are bad. It depends on how you use them. If you use them how we’ve used them, which is to the show the process we went through and to for the audience to get to know people in a much better way. Of course anyone can go out -- I could go out to L.A. this afternoon, and I can find you 30 great singers. The problem is, most of them will be boring and won’t have the character and charisma that I’m looking for as the winner of one of these shows, and that’s why I do go through the bother of hundreds of these people because I want to get to know them. I want to find out what makes them tick, and I want to find out if they’re interesting or sincere or boring because those are the people that you’re going to watch week after week. When you watch the first show, I think that you are going to become emotionally attached to a number of these people.”
“Without being rude, if you were to ask me who won ‘The Voice,’ I don’t have a clue.”
The chemistry between the superstar judging panel is another essential factor to producing a hit show. Onscreen, Cowell's serious personality will anchor a panel that will also feature former "Idol" judge Paula Abdul, music mogul Antonio "L.A." Reid and former Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger, while veteran British television presenter Steve Jones hosts the first season.
“I always say that if you’re on a panel, you should be able to go out to dinner with them and have fun and argue and enjoy it, and that’s what it’s like with these people. I’ve known L.A. [Reid] for years, and he’s ultra competitive, ultra cool and ultra good at his job. Nicole [Scherzinger], I worked with her last year, and I loved working with her. She’s fantastically self-centered and also fantastically ambitious, and she’s a great example for the contestants to show that if you want to get ahead, you have to work for it because this girl is relentless. I’ve never seen anyone work so hard in my life.”
And there was one person that Cowell just couldn’t imagine doing “The X-Factor” without -- his good friend (and sometimes enemy) Paula Abdul.
“I just couldn’t imagine doing the show without her,” said Cowell. “Ever since she left ‘Idol,’ I just felt as though I had lost my hand. It was never the same. I missed her, and for anyone that unfortunately had to take her place, it was very difficult for me to have that relationship with them because it was just something that worked from day one. And she’s back to where she was -- she still argues, she’s still difficult, she’s still spoiled and very unpredictable, but she does have very good taste. I think people forget that about her.”
With his judging panel in place, Cowell needed a host that the audience would fall in love with -- and that “Idol” host Ryan Seacrest would essentially hate.
“I remember meeting Steve three years ago in London, and I thought, you’re really good looking, I hate you, and you’re very charming, I hate you even more, but I know someone who will really hate you, and that’s person’s name is Ryan Seacrest. Steve is just going to get so laid during this series, and I can imagine Ryan watching the show and his eyes are going to become so narrow, because that’s what he does when he doesn’t like something. I can’t wait.”
Surprisingly, when Cowell isn’t plotting ways to make Ryan Seacrest jealous or making wannabe stars cry onstage, he likes to relax and watch his favorite Hanna-Barbera cartoons -- yes, cartoons. Recently, he revealed to Jay Leno that he finds cartoons more interesting than the news and that there’s always something to learn from a good cartoon.
So what cartoon is he hooked on now?
“I’ve now gotten into ‘Garfield,’ and to be honest, I was quite irritated when I first watched it. I never knew as a talking cat, I only knew him as a strip in the newspaper, but they’ve done it very well.”
Somehow it’s hard to imagine Cowell not enjoying “Garfield.” Pot, meet kettle.
"The X-Factor" airs Wednesday night, Sept. 21, on FOX at 8PM ET