'X Factor' Shake-Up: How Simon Cowell Fired Paula Abdul, Steve Jones and Nicole Scherzinger
Sources tell THR that Cowell has assembled the show's creative team for a UK offsite. The purpose: a hard look in the mirror.
The X Factor news came fast and furious on Monday night -- first, that host Steve Jones would not be returning, then that judge Nicole Scherzinger was exiting (both confirmed by Fox) and finally, according to sources, that Paula Abdul also would be shown the door. Now The Hollywood Reporter has learned that all of these major show decisions are coming from one key confab held in the U.K.
According to a show insider, a series of X Factor season 2 offsite meetings are taking place wherein show creator Simon Cowell has assembled his team and creative brain-trust for a post-mortem. The purpose: detailing what went wrong and what was done right on season 1 of the Fox singing competition.
Among the brash verdicts, says THR's source: that Abdul's role was seen as "irrelevant to the mix," in part through no fault of her own (as mentor to the groups, her contestants were picked off early in the competition).
Still, Abdul was not without her controversies on the show. Many blamed her for the dismissal of season 1 favorite Rachel Crow, precipitated by advice Abdul gave to Scherzinger to let the decision be made by the public vote. America then sent the 13-year-old packing.
As for Jones and Scherzinger, another show insider says the X Factor host was notified by a show producer around 7:30pm Eastern on Monday evening that his option was not being picked up. (Cowell did not call Jones personally to deliver the news.) Soon after, Scherzinger was informed that her contract also would not be renewed.
On the show, both had weathered their share of viewer criticism; Scherzinger even received death threats after she and Abdul voted to send finalist Drew Ryniewicz home. Jones' handling of contestant eliminations, which some deemed insensitive, also came under fire as unscripted reactions became increasingly emotional.
The host and judge did not receive an explanation for the decision, but a source close to the show says Cowell has decided that the show needs a bigger celebrity on the panel next season.
A source close to LA Reid says the fourth member of the X Factor panel has not been informed of any change to his status as judge.
Why the surprise post-season slaughter? Insiders point to an issue of both truth and perception: ratings. While The X Factor's inaugural bow had numbers comparable to that of NBC's The Voice, X Factor was seen as a disappointment while The Voice was deemed a success. In a way, Cowell could only blame himself -- he was the one who set the bar extraordinarily high, telling THR in an August 2011 cover story that he was anticipating a viewership of 20 million.
Coming in some 8 million viewers short meant lost ad revenue and diminished profits on what was already one of the most expensive productions on television.
Also nagging at Cowell -- with just about everything he touches -- are the constant Idol comparisons and U.S. X Factor was no exception. But even with its over-the-top accoutrements of costumes, dancers and pyro, many from inside and outside the show's sphere felt it simply wasn't different enough, especially with the familiar image of Abdul at Cowell's side.
While Fox has confirmed the departures of Scherzinger and Jones, official word on Abdul has yet to arrive.