Ryan Seacrest Is No. 1 on THR's Reality Power List
How do you wield reality power when you don't currently have a show on the air? Well, by being Simon Cowell. Having upped the talent-show ante to the tune of an astronomical $5 million prize, Britain's beloved, self-branded bully is bringing his music franchise The X Factor to the U.S. in September. And he has big shoes to fill: his own. After helping grow American Idol from a low-rent summer experiment to a series high of 31 million viewers in 2006, it's hard to imagine lightning striking twice. But Cowell, whose Syco Records is among Sony Music U.K.'s biggest money-making labels, has never been one to rely on luck. "I think our timing is good because of what I've seen in the last 12 months," he says of the U.S. version of X Factor. "From my record company perspective, there's this whole new generation of artists like Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Rihanna who've almost kicked out the old guard." Few could have guessed that Idol and its competitors -- from Mark Burnett's The Voice to America's Got Talent, which Cowell executive produces, to The Sing Off -- would still be a hot TV category 10 years after Kelly Clarkson's Idol win. But for his part, Cowell hasn't strayed too far from the basic formula with X Factor. "It's the same principle now," says Cowell, who's reportedly engaged to former Idol makeup artist Mezhgan Hussainy and splits his time between London and Los Angeles. "No matter what your ambitions are for one of these shows, it absolutely depends on the contestants. If they're all useless and boring, you haven't got a show."