After nine years on American Idol, Simon Cowell is set to launch the widely-anticipated The X Factor on Fox on Sept. 21. While the show hasn’t even hit the air yet, the hype and buzz is huge — thanks in part due to Cowell’s track record and the dramatic events surrounding the creation and casting of the show, which includes Paula Abdul, executive Antonio “L.A.” Reid, Pussycat Dolls singer Nicole Scherzinger as judges and British host Steve Jones. The big budget production — costing $3 million per episode — is already a hit with advertisers, who are paying a stratospheric $400,000 for a 30-second spot. Pepsi has signed on as a corporate sponsor (in a deal estimated at $60 million) along with Sony Electronics and Chevrolet.
That’s not all that’s big. The winner of The X Factor will receive an astounding $5 million Sony recording contract, along with representation by Live Nation-owned, Irving Azoff-run Front Line Management. The prize money is a behemoth compared to other talent shows, such as The Voice’s $200,000 award. “That’s boring,” says Cowell of other show’s smaller prizes. “This is Hollywood.”
Among the revelations:
COWELL’S RATINGS GOAL: 20 MILLION VIEWERS A WEEK
Cowell says that any less than 20 million would be “a disappointment.” What else is the man with the Midas touch searching for with The X Factor? “Buzz. In England, you genuinely get the feeling the whole country is talking about the show. I hope for that.,” he says.
AN ANGRY CHERYL COLE WALKED AWAY FROM A $4 MILLION OFFER
Cowell revealed that two weeks before the show started taping, Cole wasn’t comfortable in the U.S.. and was expressing hesitation about going through with the deal. Through her representatives (Cole is co-managed by Black Eyed Peas frontman will.i.am and his business partner Seth Friedman), Cole began to inquire about a return to the U.K. version. “I came to the conclusion that she may not be as comfortable here because I was seeing a different person,” he says. “She was like Princess Diana when she would walk out in England, and I accepted the fact that people didn’t know her here, but I think it did have an effect on her.” Cole’s quiet demeanor on camera prompted a call from Cowell on Day 2 of filming. “I said: ‘Cheryl, you’ve got to raise your game a bit. This is America, it’s a much tougher market.'” Cowell explored the idea of having her return to the U.K. show and had even secured a substantial pay raise (more than $4 million, according to a source); 24 hours later, they were negotiating the offer. “We had gotten to the point where she wanted my dressing room,” Cowell continues. But Cowell says Cole then never responded to the final offer. They haven’t spoken since.
Cowell readily admits that he’s “not happy with the way it played out.” At the same time, he adds, “I wouldn’t be doing my job as a producer if I didn’t do what was right for my shows. I stand by the decisions I’ve made, and I knew the implications when I did it publicly — that I was going to get slaughtered, and I did.” Still, he’d hire Cole for another project “in a heartbeat — you’re not drowning puppies here. You’re offering someone who’s got millions of dollars more money and more work. And if people think that’s cruel, then they can do that to me on a daily basis. I’ll take it twice a day.”
COWELL DOESN’T MINCE WORDS ABOUT ‘IDOL’
Read between the lines of X Factor’s first promo, which mocks the warm and fuzzy nature of Idol’s 10th season by dressing Cowell in pink cashmere and having Paula Abdul coo about a mediocre contestant’s “spirit” (a la Jennifer Lopez), and you can cut that tension with a knife. “The truth is, I was a big part of Idol being a success,” says Cowell. “I worked my nuts off. Then when you read catty comments that play down my role, that’s disrespectful.” In the end, Cowell says he didn’t see much personal or professional gain from the arrangement, other than the payday. “My attitude on Idol was, I didn’t have anything,” he elaborates. “I had a stupid three- or four-year license for the records, and that’s not what I wanted or expected.”
COWELL IS NOT SO HAPPY WITH SIMON FULLER’S LAWSUIT
Simon Fuller, creator and executive producer of Idol, is suing Fox and Freemantle for an executive producer’s credit on X Factor, claiming that it was part of an agreement made between the two Simons in 2004. “You can’t give someone an executive producer’s title if they didn’t executive produce the show. It’s like me saying I want to be executive producer on The Voice or Project Runway,” said Cowell. “Genuinely, when it comes to this lawsuit, I haven’t got a clue. It’s not part of our settlement agreement, so I was as surprised as anyone.” A source contends that Fox and Fremantle entered into a separate contract giving Fuller a stake in X Factor should the show make it to air in the U.S. Cowell calls his relationship with Fuller “complicated,” but while he’s careful to point out that he’s not named in the suit, clearly Cowell is bothered. “It goes back to being a kid; if you shake hands with somebody, then it’s a deal, simple as that,” he says. “If someone breaks that trust, and they can’t admit it to you, it’s cowardly. I’d rather have a person look me in the eye and say, ‘I’m going to screw you.'”
COWELL IS VERY PARTICULAR ABOUT HIS SMOOTHIES AND FRIENDS
During Cowell’s conversation with THR in the sun-exposed corner of his poolside terrace high above the Sunset Strip (a 5,000-square-foot rental while his $8 million Beverly Hills pad is remodeled), the 51-year-old tanaholic and entertainment mogul requests from a staffer a spinach blend (made up of two large handfuls of fresh leaves, crushed ginger, lemon and a tablespoon of honey), a carrot concoction (containing exactly 25 green grapes and 10 ice cubes) and the all-powerful “Super Smoothie,” which calls for, among other ingredients, the juice of eight lingonberries imported from Russia (average price: 135 rubles — or $5 — per kilo, but add another Benjamin for overnight shipping). “People who work for me, even here at my home, I see it as a job for life,” Cowell says. “I don’t want negative people or jerks around. I always say, when someone’s number comes up and you don’t want to take that call, cut them out. You’d be amazed at how much better you feel on a daily basis.”
HOW L.A. REID FEELS ABOUT RANDY JACKSON COMPARISONS
All the American Idol comparisons are inevitable, with Reid bearing the brunt of the most obvious physical parallels. “Yeah, I had those conversations where I’m the black guy with the bald head,” he sighs. “I’ve heard all those comments: ‘If they’re gonna use Randy, why didn’t they just get Randy?’ “That’s just how people think, but who cares? I love Randy. He’s been doing this successfully for 11 years. Comparing me to him is certainly not an insult.”
NICOLE SCHERZINGER AND STEVE JONES HAD A ‘HORRIBLE’ MEETING WITH FOX EXECS
Scherzinger, who was originally slated as a host, but took Cole’s judging spot when she was dropped, and Jones were paraded in front of Fox president of alternative programming Mike Darnell and members of his staff in what she describes as a “horrible and awkward” conference. “They were, like, ‘Monkey, monkey, dance! Let’s go!’ ” Scherzinger says, still annoyed. “They were very intense meetings,” adds Jones. “Me and Nicole hit it off, but Mike Darnell is a tough cookie, and he was just firing questions that I tried my best to handle — basically asking, ‘Why should we hire you?’ ”