Simon Cowell: X marks the spot

Simon Cowell is back. The former American Idol judge, 51, is bringing his British hit, The X Factor, to U.S. televisions next fall on Fox. Start those voice lessons, because the prize is hefty one: a $5 million record deal with Cowell’s production company Syco and Sony Music. We caught up with the media mogul on a recent conference call:

What helps you spot talent?

I put my trust in the audience. I trust my gut feeling. I work with talented people, and essentially what I try to do now – because I have a choice – is I make shows I’d like to watch.

Would you consider Paula Abdul as a judge?

Well, I’m a massive fan of Paula. It’s quite unusual – when you work with somebody for as long as I did with Paula, we were friends on the show for I’d say 80 percent of the time, and then interestingly, afterwards we’ve been in regular contact. We’re talking to a number of people, and I expect to make an announcement [soon].

What’s with the huge record deal? Are you nervous that maybe that’s too high?

Yes, and I think you should be nervous [but] sometimes you have to put your money where your mouth is. By putting up that kind of prize money, it’s a massive, massive risk, but it’s also an incredible incentive. I think it puts everybody, rightly, under an enormous amount of pressure, because I didn’t want to go into this show without feeling a certain amount of pressure. With pressure, you have to find a star.

Are we going to see the old Simon or a new version?

I cringed when I started to see people being booked as the so-called mean judge and just being gratuitously rude for the sake of it. I don’t like that. I have my own style. I like to think that I’m honest.

Any thoughts on the new “Idol” judges, Tyler and J. Lo?

I think from what I’ve seen, from what I’ve heard, it all seems to be going well. What I was more concerned about was the ratings falling off a cliff, meaning that that whole genre is now over. I think the good news is that people are still excited about these shows, whether it be that show, Dancing with the Stars, which has definitely gotten better over the years, America’s Got Talent [which Cowell launched in the UK], which the ratings have gone up over the years.

What is “The X Factor”?

A good example of that is Lady Gaga. Now, God only knows what we would have said to her if she’d have walked into Idol three years ago with a lobster on her head. I don’t know, but she’s got it.

What artists out there today do you think have that same factor?

Anyone from Beyoncé to Rihanna to The Black Eyed Peas, Justin Bieber, the Glee cast. This is a good time for the music business right now. It kind of feels that we’ve come out of this gray period into a very, very fun, extreme time again. I think records have gotten better, the artists have gotten better .

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