Simon Cowell energized by his $5 million X Factor
You can hear it in Simon Cowell’s voice. At long last, he’s excited again.
On a conference call with reporters Monday, the famously acerbic former American Idol judge seemed to burst with enthusiasm — for him — as he outlined the new details announced for his fall talent show on Fox, The X Factor.
First comes the show’s prize, a $5 million recording contract with the Sony/Syco record label that Fox says is the largest single prize in TV game show history. Cowell, as the show’s executive producer and format owner, insists the amount is not cobbled together from marketing budgets or video production expenses; winners gets this sum, paid in cash over five years, to ensure their star status.
Next, there’s auditions, before a live audience, starting March 27 in Los Angeles and traveling to four other cities including Miami, which Idol famously passed over for this year's shows. Click here to go to Fox's audition site or the audition area on Facebook.
And there’s the age limit for contestants, which starts at age 12 and goes up without limit. In Britain, that meant then 48-year-old singer Susan Boyle could stun the audience at Britain’s Got Talent with a voice that belied her dowdy look and eventually sold millions.
“Susan Boyle taught me a huge lesson,” said Cowell, who also owns, produces and stars in Britain’s Got Talent overseas. “I have to be more open-minded. If you’ve got it, you’ve got it…no matter what your age.”
On past conference calls about Idol, Cowell could seem distant and distracted. But on Monday, he was engaged and seemingly energized by his simple, yet momentous challenge; finding a worldwide pop star while broadcasting a popular TV show in television’s most competitive arena, network television.
“Sometimes you’ve gotta put you money where your mouth is,” said Cowell, featured in two ads during Fox’s record-breaking Super Bowl broadcast Sunday. “It’s a massive, massive risk. But it’s also an incredible incentive. It puts everyone, rightly, under a tremendous amount of pressure….to find a star.”
He won’t say who he’s considering to join him as a judge in the new show — continuing the cat-and-mouse game with fellow former Idol judge Paula Abdul by saying they were friends “80 percent of the time” on that show, while refusing to dish on whether she might join him on X Factor.
But the job requires more commitment than Idol, because judges eventually help contestants compete by mentoring them directly on song choices, look and presentation.
“I got bored of just judging,” Cowell said. “It really does become incredibly competitive between the judges; in a way, even more competitive than between the artists, because we don’t pretend to like each other.”
When he first came to America with Idol, Cowell fretted whether his arch British criticisms would appeal to viewers across the pond. Now, even as MTV struggles with fallout from its adaptation of the explicitly controversial youth series Skins, the former Idol star can cite a stream of talent show imports that triumphed in translation, including the Talent formats and ABC’s Dancing with the Stars.
Cowell also wouldn’t dish on what he thinks of the new American Idol, saying he’d only seen a few minutes of one episode from this season. Predictably, his only reaction was a bit self-centered; relief that the show’s continuing ratings proved American viewers still want to watch a singer get famous on national television.
“What I was more concerned about was the (Idol) ratings falling off a cliff, meaning the whole genre is over,” he said. “It kinda feels we’ve come out of this gray period (in the music business) into a very fun, extreme time.”
Later, Cowell stated the challenge simply: “If we don’t, with what I’ve put (up as a prize), find a global star, I think we’ve failed.”