Notorious as the say-it-like-you-mean-it, persnickety, and caustic former American Idol judge, Simon Cowell closes the book and begins a new saga with the U.S. version of The X Factor. I have to say, he was absolutely dashing! I was mesmerized. Cowell was candid, charming, whimsical and intelligent during a recent conference call with television writers. I haven’t the faintest idea as to why he often has a bad rep. I found his personality to be very similar to mine… hey, wait a second! Yes, I am aware of the old adage, ”like attracts like”, I don’t think my wit is acerbic (not really), but if his creative genius is any indication… I am in stellar company!
So, what did Simon have to say?
From like a production standpoint, how is doing the American version of the show been different so far from your stance doing the British version?
Well it’s a good question, because when we first did this it was kind of weird for me. We do these auditions in front of crowds: 4,000 people, 5,000 people, 6,000 people in arenas, and of course nobody had seen the show before. And in a strange way it made it more interesting, because the audience didn’t know what to expect. I could feel that they were kind of excited and a bit edgy, and then they got it quite quickly.
I would say the American audiences are more vocal; that when they like someone they let you know, and they certainly let you know when they disagree with you. There were a few occasions where we had to (otherwise I think I may have got seriously injured) bring back some contestants we said no to because the audience wanted them [to get] through; we did say to [the audience] you’re sort of like the fifth judge here. So it was fun and everywhere we went the crowds were good. Better in the evenings, because you could feel a lot of them were drunk so they were louder, and I like that. I might do that for the live shows, just make everybody drink before they come in.
Can you tell me what is the most important thing that you’ve learned during your time as a judge on American Idol that you’ve now been applying for launching The X Factor …?
Well, you have to say what you think, basically, otherwise anyone could do this job; I mean everyone has an opinion: you like somebody; you don’t like somebody. Not many people are prepared to actually say, “I think what other people are thinking at home,” and I genuinely don’t have a problem with that. And the more time I spent in America the best compliment you could have is when people come up to you and say, “You do say what I’m thinking.” So I felt comfortable doing that when I moved from Idol onto The X Factor. It doesn’t always make you comfortable when you watch it back, but it definitely makes the show more honest I think.
One of the things that was going to be unique, at least I think to American audience, was the mentoring process and now there’s some of The Voice jumped in and did something similar to that.
What are your feelings about that?
Well they didn’t do it as well as us, if I’m being honest with you, and you will genuinely see the difference, I think, on this show. I kind of expected them to do something like that, but that’s the nature of the game when you make reality shows. But it is a necessary part of the format that you really do mentor these contestants. And look, it’s not just what you do during the show; anyone can mentor. The point is can you mentor someone through the show and actually create a star. So you’re going to have to judge X Factor on what we do compared to what they did on The Voice.
As I’m talking to you, this week, [a band] I mentored on X Factor last year in the U.K., didn’t win (they came third), but they’re going to have the biggest selling single this year and the biggest selling album; they’re a band called One Direction. So that’s what I call proper mentoring where you’re preparing somebody for the real world.
How early will the mentoring start?
It starts the second you’re given your category, when you find out who you have; you have the young guys, you have the young girls, you have the over 30 year olds, and you have the groups, and depending on what category you have you work with them all the way through until the end of the show.
Cheryl Cole was shown briefly at the judge’s table in the trailer. I’m just wondering how you’re going to handle that situation; is she going to be edited out completely, is it going to be addressed at all?
No. No. She’s in episode one. She’s in the first hour. So in terms of how we address it, I think we just pretty much tell it as it was; she was on the show and then she got replaced by Nicole. So on the first half of the show next week it’s Cheryl, and then the second half it’s Nicole.