Monday, February 7, 2011

Simon Cowell Talks "X Factor": "I’ve got a really, really good gut feeling about this"

After a big promo splash during last night’s Super Bowl, FOX released some details about “The X Factor” today. But one big detail remains—who will join Simon Cowell on the judges panel?

What we do know is that auditions for “The X Factor” begin Sunday, March 27th in Los Angeles. There will also be auditions in Chicago, Dallas, Miami, New York/New Jersey and Seattle. Anyone 12 years old and up—both solo acts and groups—can audition.

But the big announcement is that the winner of “Factor” will receive a $5 million recording contract with Syco/Sony Music.

FOX quickly assembled a media conference call with Simon Cowell today to talk about “Factor” with explicit instructions to stick to questions relating to “Factor.” In other words, no questions about “American Idol.” But, of course, someone snuck one in anyway—No, it wasn’t me—and asked Simon what he thought of the new judges. He said he had only seen a three minute recap, but that, of course, didn’t stop him from sharing his thoughts:

“It all seems to be going well. What I was more concerned about were ratings falling off a cliff and that genre was now over. But people, thank God, still like these shows. I think they’ve done a good job.”

Did he mean what he said? Yes, I believe he did because I think he was honestly over “Idol” and just ready to move on. And he’s just been too busy to worry about it…

Here’s what he had to say about the real subject of the call, “The X Factor”:

On the show: “I put my trust in the audience. I trust my gut feeling. Now that I have a choice, I make shows I like to watch. I’m excited. I think we’re going to do something different. The stakes are high.”

On whether he’s considering Paula as a judge: “I’m a massive fan of Paula. We were friends on [‘Idol’] 80 percent of the time. Now we’re in contact all of the time.”

On the judges: “I’m not gonna say today who we are going to confirm. We’re talking to a number of people. We expect to make an announcement in three or four weeks. We’ve honestly not made our minds up. It comes down to who I think is interesting. The most important things are commitment and expertise.” Simon explained that the judges will mentor three finalists each. “It is hard work. It’s important to me that I’ve got people I can trust. You’ve got people who are very competitive with each other. I want someone who is competitive. It needs to be someone who the American audience will find interesting and someone who knows what they’re talking about. It also helps if they’re cute.”

On his ratings expectations: “In America, it’s impossible to predict. We just need to make a show that’s different from the competition. That’s controversial. That’s interesting. But I’ve learned never take anything for granted.”

On whether he’s nervous about giving a $5 million dollar record contract prize: “I think we should be nervous. We want to show the people…put your money where your mouth is. It’s a massive, massive risk. And an incredible incentive. I wanted to feel a certain amount of pressure. I’m nervous but I’m also confident.” Simon explained that it’s a guaranteed $5 million paid over 5 years. He said they’ll also be offering financial support so the winner(s) will know how to invest their money.

On translating a British show to America: [One of my concerns about bringing ‘Idol’ to America] was I didn’t want there to be lots of rules. This is a fairly simple format. It’s open to all ages, groups…It must be essentially an all-American show. I’m confident I can do the same thing [as I’ve done before]. I don’t take anything for granted. A star is a star. Interesting TV is interesting TV. My commitment is to find the best producers I can find…‘Dancing With the Stars’ is brilliant. If you bring a good format with great producers with a commitment to do something different, you’ve got half a chance.”

On how he balances judging and producing: “As executive producer, I have a vision for the show. I have some strong views on that. Once the show goes into production, I become a judge and I have to put my faith in the hands of the producers.”

About making the minimum age 12: “I thought long and hard about it. Five or six years ago, I wouldn’t have done it. There are incredibly talented young kids out there. Now I think times have changed. You have to go on a case by case basis. Through my job I have started to see a new wave as to how these kids are thinking. It would’ve been wrong to exclude them.” Simon also said he liked the idea of a 12-year-old competing with a 40-year-old.

On whether he’ll be the same Simon we’ve known: “You adapt over the years. I’ve started to cringe at people being booked as the mean judge. I like to think I’m honest. I wouldn’t sugarcoat something just to be popular. People know what to expect. I don’t think anything will change too much.”

On the mentoring aspect of “Factor”: “The reason we replaced ‘Idol’ with “The X Factor” [in Britain] was I got bored with just judging. I got frustrated. [This way] I could help competitors on a regular basis. It’s what you do at a record company. It made sense we should do that on a TV show.”

With “Factor,” the contestants are competing against each other, but so are the judges since they are mentoring and making the decisions for the contestants. “It’s an interesting thing to be judged as well as the competitors. It really does become completely competitive. Maybe more than with the contestants because we don’t pretend to like each other.”

The auditions in front of the judges will be live, a la “America’s Got Talent.” “I made a decision that I couldn’t sit in an audition room with two other people. I decided each person would have to audition in front of the judges in an arena. It really helped me see who could handle the pressure. It’s also vital to get audience feedback as well. They have changed our minds.” Simon said Susan Boyle is a perfect example. “The audience lifted her. I don’t believe she would’ve gotten through with the old-fashioned audition method.” The other thing Simon likes about audience feedback? “You think you’re as good of a judge as me? Then prove it.”

On the big differences between “Factor” and other shows: “It’s like pairing ‘Extreme Home Makeover” with “Jersey Shore.” They’re both reality shows, but they’re very, very different. There’s craziness and unpredictability. It’s more raw. More competitive. More personal. There’s a point where the finalists go into the judges’ homes. You’re going to see a very different live experience than what you’re used to on American TV.”

On the judges judging each other: “I think it makes it amusing…I’m extra nice to mine… You make a decision and then you have to hear someone else criticize it. That’s why it’s important to have people I think could be genuinely better than me…When someone does a good job, you have to be honest. You do judge your own and there have been times when I’m critical of my own work. When you have to put together the entire performance yourself, it’s very intimidating.”

On what the x factor is: “A perfect example is Lady Gaga. She’s got it. God only knows what we would have said to her if she walked into ‘Idol’ three years ago with a lobster on her head.”

On making a star: “What you want to happen is that you can say I was there at the beginning. We are genuinely serious about this. And we can guarantee you’ll have the very best support around you.” Simon said Kelly Clarkson is still his favorite Idol contestant.

On the state of the music industry today: “It kind of feels like we’ve come out of this gray period. It’s a really fun time again. This is a good time. It’s a great time for people to get out of their safety mode. I’m most excited about the groups. Choirs have suddenly become very interesting. I invite them to come along as well.”

On whether a star is still out there: “I think if we can’t achieve what I’ve offered—to find a global star—then we’ve failed…If I didn’t believe it, there’d be no point in making this show. I’ve got a really, really good gut feeling about this.”

On dealing with older contestants: “It can be challenging. But you can’t put an age cap on talent. There are a lot of people who have missed the opportunity. And it makes it more interesting. It’s their last chance. There’s more at stake. Susan Boyle taught me a huge lesson. I have to be more open minded. If you’ve got it, you’ve got it.”

At the end of the call, Simon asked if he could say something to everyone. After a short pause, he said, “I miss you guys. I’m glad we’re coming back.”

After all the frustration he exhibited during “Idol” last season, it was nice to hear Simon excited about something again. And I am really looking forward to what “The X Factor” is going to bring.
Yes, it’s true, Simon. I miss you and am glad you’re coming back too…

You can find out more about the show on its website.

Photo Credits: Ian Derry/FOX & FOX