Interview: Simon Cowell Chats THE X FACTOR Season 2
Simon Cowell is an A&R executive, producer and star of some of the highest-rated television shows in the world. His discerning eye for talent and his candid remarks have made him a household name. In 2002, he founded his U.K.-based media and entertainment Production Company, Syco, which became a joint venture with Sony Music Entertainment in 2010. Syco’s television and music assets include the global TV franchises “The X Factor” and “Got Talent,” as well as International Artists such as One Direction, Leona Lewis, Susan Boyle, Il Divo, Cher Lloyd, Rebecca Ferguson and Labrinth. Cowell has worked with artists who have sold more than 300 million records worldwide.
The X FACTOR judge spoke to reporters on Tuesday about co-judges, new hosts and what to expect on upcoming episodes of the FOX singing competition.
I know a lot of people were skeptical about Britney as a judge. How have you found her as a judge and a mentor so far?
I’m glad we started with started with that question actually because I think she’s been a lot better than everybody thought. She’s very engaged. I was with her yesterday and she’s very, very into her contestants. She thinks she can win the competition.
I don’t know what she’s going to be like on a live show because we haven’t done one yet and it’s a very, very different setup than the auditions because at this point, the judges are competing with each other because we’re all mentoring our own acts. So, I don’t know how she’s going to cope with that part, but I think she’s excited about the shows. She has been, I think, a very, very good judge.
I was just wondering not just for the Groups category but overall, who do you think are the strongest contestants going into the round of 16?
Well the groups are a million times better than last year and I’ve had a lot of success with groups over the years. Some of them I could really, really see having a big future outside this competition and that will be witnessed tomorrow. I mean one group in particular are just off the charts tomorrow night.
The rest of the competition—obviously, Britney’s category, which is the Young Teens, are really, really strong and they’re going to be popular. They’re going to get a lot of votes. I think Debbie’s got a good category, but I’m not sure she’s got a winner. Maybe one girl has a shot; Janelle I think her name is, who I really, really like. She could be a little bit of a dark horse and Ellie, no chance whatsoever.
Are you surprised at the chemistry that’s been fostered between the groups that were assembled by the judges?
Not really. I mean like I said, I’ve done this so many times. I mean the last time, I did it with One Direction and my job is that you try and look for chemistry, encourage it when it happens, but these girls have done really, really well and they’ve become really popular over the last few weeks. So, I have a lot of confidence in them.
Do you feel when the contestants stay in a house together they do become closer as a group when they have to perform?
Yes and no. I mean I think they all end up getting on each other’s nerves. Some people Will Bond; the others will do the opposite, but I think it’s easier for us to have them all in one place when we’re going up to mentor them. There are facilities there and it kind of works as a rehearsal room, but they just got to get on with it. If they don’t like each other, concentrate on the competition like I said and then after they leave the competition they can bite each other as long as they want.
How do you feel Khloe is going to cope with her first days of hosting?
Well, it’s been a problem because we brought the show forward a days. So, that’s one less day’s rehearsal. So, she’s going to have nerves of steel when she goes in there tomorrow, but my attitude is we could have prerecorded it, which I think would have made it boring. On live TV things do go wrong and that’s probably one of the reasons why we always go live. I kind of like to see the unpredictable and I quite like seeing people under pressure and just how they deal with it. You don’t want robots. You want human beings.
The meeting I had with her and Mario when very well. They seem to have good chemistry. She’s really looking forward to doing this; wants to prove a point and I think they’re going to be fun together.
Do you anticipate former contestants from last year like Josh and Melanie will make appearances this year and perform on the show?
Yes, a couple of them will over the next few weeks, definitely.
You mentioned that Khloe has a point to prove in being the cohost this season. Can you explain?
Yes. I saw quite a number of knocking articles saying, “What are you thinking? Why should she be a host?” I mean she’s had a lot of positive press, but I think she’s had her doubters. I think she wants to prove anyone who doubter her that she’s capable of doing the job.
I’ve got to tell you, and I don’t know her well, but when she came over to my house the other day, I mean she really has got a fun personality. I think she gets what her role is. I think she’s there to be a voice for the contestants and to have fun with it. When you want to go off script I mean I always think that’s more fun rather than someone just reading off a teleprompter or what we call an auto queue.
I think you’ll find that she speaks her mind.
You know what? I think you’re right and she certainly did the first time I met her. But, I encourage that. I like that. They’re there to have opinions and I think it was lacking last season. The host, he didn’t seem to have an opinion on any of the performances and I think it’s important with hosts that they are allowed to pitch in as well as the judges. If they disagree with the judges, they’re entitled to say something.
I just wanted to get your comment on what some of the critics are saying - that singing competition shows are becoming more about the judges than the contestants.
I mean these shows can only work on these live aspects if you’ve got good and engaging contestants. If it has to rely on the judges, you’ve got a real problem. I can remember the first year I did a show in America, I mean all I remember from that show was the fact that Kelly Clarkson won and that, to me, obviously was the most important part. Maybe in the early parts of the show, on the auditions, the judges have a little bit more to do, but when it comes to live shows, it’s 90% about the contestants.
As a viewer, you’ve got to believe that you’re watching someone who not only could win the competition, but potentially could be a star. That’s the exciting part about watching these live shows. Like I said, I’ve been down to some of the rehearsals. I think people are going to get blown away by the talent this year. It’s so much better than what we did last year.
I was wondering if there were any plans for Britany to do any performances on the show.
Britnay; I’m going to push as much as possible for her to do something on the final and I think she’ll probably do it.
Why did you want two hosts over one this year?
The very first show I ever did on TV was the British version of AMERICAN IDOL and we had two hosts. It was so much fun and I always think with two hosts, they just … to rely on. We’ve worked out—there’s so much talking one host has to do on these live shows in terms of voting information, sponsor information. So, we thought it be more fun for the viewer to split it up so you’re not hearing the same person talk and talk and talk, but we’re going to find out very soon whether it was a good idea or a terrible idea.
Was there anything that Steve Jones didn’t quite do right that you want to see Mario or Khloe do on this season?
Well, I suppose I see a host’s role to be a fan as well as a host. Otherwise, anyone can coming in and read out voting information. That’s what I’m looking for more than anything else is that they’re entitled to have their favorites and they’re there to stick up for the contestants that they think have been unfairly treated and just to have a more organic role I suppose than what you traditionally see on these shows. It’s what we’ve told them when we met and we’ll be encouraging them to do that. Most importantly, have fun.
Which team are you most nervous about?
Britney’s team. I think everybody in a way wanted that category because we have two or three kids in the category who are super, super talented this year. Britney, she got them and she was absolutely thrilled. From what I hear, because I actually haven’t heard them sing yet, she’s doing a pretty good job. I mean we’ll find out tomorrow whether that’s true or not because it’s her responsibility to choose the songs, give them confidence. I would say that’s the category every judge fears is going to probably do really well.
Which job is harder for you—mentoring or judging?
Mentoring can be a nightmare because you’ve got so much responsibility to get it right and when it goes wrong, you have to take the brunt that it has been your fault the contestant is gone. So, yes, anyone can judge to be honest with you, but mentoring, choosing the right material, making sure their image is right, making sure they’re getting on and overseeing everything particularly at the beginning when you’ve got four acts is hard work. I mean it really is a lot of mental pressure.
It’s embarrassing on the night when you got it wrong. I mean it’s just the worst feeling because then you’re being judged. So, yes, mentoring is the hardest job.
Was the choice of hiring experienced host Mario Lopez made to balance the fact that this was Khloe's first time hosting?
Well, there were a lot of people who tested and we went back on the test with Mario and Khloe. It was the network really who said it’s just too risky to put two people on a show who haven’t hosted before. What they felt was that Mario, he’s a really professional, safe pair of hands and Khloe, certainly in her first season, would need someone around her who has had a lot of experience. That’s why in the end we decided on those two. I mean Mario was always up there as one of the top candidates. Seeing them together, it was the right decision. They do seem to have a good chemistry.
You obviously don’t have a problem telling what you really think about the contestants, but what do you find the most difficult?
The time pressure where you’ve got to choose songs really, really quickly. When you’ve gone through one live show, one results show and then almost immediately the producers pounce on you and you’ve got to come up with material which is going to work the following week. It’s harder than you think because you’re always trying to create moments. I try and do it as if these were the records they would put out and their favor is in your hands. Like I said, if you get it wrong, it’s your responsibility.
When somebody you like—when I lost Drew last year from the competition who I liked because I chose a stupid song for her that particular week, you feel really bad afterwards. So, it’s not a nice feeling, but it’s a good feeling when you get it right and I think I’ve got it right this year.
Last year, we saw some unpredictable moments with Astro and Rachel Crow, especially when she got eliminated. I’m sure it was as shocking for you to watch as it was for us. Are you better preparing the contestants this year for rejection, in particular, the younger ones?
We haven’t discussed rejection with them yet. It’s a little bit early. I’m sure Britney’s mentioned it, but no matter how much you say to someone, “Not everyone can win,” it’s heartbreaking to them when they lose. Rachel reacted that way because she genuinely in her heart believed that she’d already won the competition. So, she was just in total shock that she was eliminated so early. And Astro was just being a brat to be honest with you. We sorted it out and he was fine afterwards.
But, I try not to say too much, which is why make our shows live because I think you have to show melt downs and everything from these shows. If we prerecorded it and edited it out I think it would be quite boring.
Are you planning to do a wild card this year.
In the way that we did it last year I don’t think so. I think my gut feeling is there won’t be one this year. There was talk of it, but we’ve already got 16 contestants and that’s a lot. There’s nobody I feel as passionately about as I did with Melanie Amaro. It was just stupid that I didn’t put her through the first time. So, if I was a betting man I’d say there won’t be one this year.
On Thursday, Nov. 1 (8:00 - 10:00 PM ET live/PT tape-delayed), the Top Finalists will be revealed, and return the following week to face America's vote.
THE X FACTOR was created by Syco Television and is produced by Syco Television and FremantleMedia North America. Rob Wade and Nigel Hall are executive producers for Syco Television. Trish Kinane, Richard Holloway and Andrew Llinares serve as executive producers for FremantleMedia North America. “Like” THE X FACTOR on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TheXFactorUSA. Follow the series on Twitter@TheXFactorUSA and join the discussion at #xfactor.