Q&A: Simon Cowell on His Search for 'X Factor' Talent and What He Thinks of 'American Idol'
He also reacts to producers who say they're "glad" he isn't on "Idol" anymore; shares his thoughts on Mark Burnett's new singing competition, "The Voice"; and explains why the winner of "X Factor" will receive a whopping $5 million in cash.
What is different about launching X Factor now versus Idol 10 years ago? Aside from the weight of expectation.
Cowell: You've got so many more outlets now with the Internet. Word definitely spreads a lot quicker. I think our timing is good because what I've seen in the last 12 months, from my record company perspective, is that there's this whole new generation of artists who've come along who've really worked out for themselves the type of artist they want to be, even the younger singers. And it's almost like they've kicked out the old guard over the last 12 months. People like Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga -- Rhianna, how she's developed in the last year. Even a show like Glee, I never would have predicted three years ago being so popular. So I hope that the show can reflect what's going on in the charts, that you've got a different type of contestant than we used to.
You'll shoot X Factor on the same stage as Idol, correct?
In the U.K., it has an arena feel. Is that going to be different here?
Cowell: It's going to look similar to what we did in the U.K. We have a very, very good team of designers and we've come up with something that I think is going to look fantastic. But I'm keeping a lot of these things close to my chest because, as you say, there's an awful lot of competition out there right now, and we hope to surprise you people with the way the show is going to look.
We already broke the news that L.A. Reid will be a judge. We've heard about the Mariah Carey pregnancy and why she won't be a judge. So are we going to have little things leaked out until September?
Cowell: Yes, everything we're trying to keep secret will be leaked within seconds. And you're going to know exactly who we're talking to and who we're concerned with and who we're not. And the truth is that the reason we haven't announced the panel yet is that nobody can agree. New people keep coming along every week who we want to see. And that's why we haven't confirmed the judging panel yet.
The formation of the judging panel, especially watching what happened with Idol after you left, has got to be one of the most fascinating processes to be inside of. How do you weigh these various elements that you want and the chemistry?
Cowell: What you do is you make a decision, then you get nervous about it, then you wake up in the middle of the night saying, "I've made a terrible mistake." You call everybody the following day to say you've changed your mind and then 24 hours later you go through the same process again. And then when you think everyone's agreed, you get a phone call from a producer at three in the morning saying, "I've got to speak to you. I'm really nervous about this decision. I think we're doing the wrong thing." And I say, "Oh God, here we go again." But this happens on all of our shows. I've been on shows where the day before we're due to film, we haven't decided who's going to be on the show.
The judges commit a huge amount of time.
Cowell: I always put it down in basic terms: You've got to imagine that you're having a dinner party, and it's a very, very long dinner party and who you could bear to spent that much time with. Because if you haven't got chemistry or if you can't work together, it is total, utter misery.
Have you developed a taste for Pepsi? Because they're your partner on the show and they've been ruing the day they passed on Idolfor the past 10 years.
Cowell: If I didn't like Pepsi, I don't think we could have agreed to do a deal with them. And I do actually like it and I drink it, so no problems there.
I do miss you as a judge on Idol. Nobody is saying the words that you used to say, which is "That was a huge mistake" and "You're probably gonna be gone." Do you watch?
Cowell: I watched it a couple of weeks ago. And it was interesting. I was watching it with some friends. And for a moment, it's like you're on the show and somebody's singing and you want to say something, and then suddenly you realize you're not on the show and you're listening to somebody else. It's a really odd experience. But they genuinely seem to be happy and the audience seemed to like it so I guess everyone's happy.