Interview: Simon Cowell from American Idol

We had the pleasure of talking with Simon Cowell from American Idol clearing up the rumors about him and Ellen, who he would like to work with on his last season, and of course, what he thinks about his potential replacements.

When you look at the musical landscape of contemporary music at this point, does it seem important to you that a woman win this year?

Simon Cowell: It depends what she’s like. I kind of know where you’re going. We’ve had a few years now of guys winning the show and I would say there is definitely a better chance of a girl winning the show this year, certainly than last year.

What would be the right type of woman to win, do you think?

Simon Cowell: When you talk about the landscape, I think you’re absolutely right; you want somebody who represents what is going on at the moment. I’d love to find a Taylor Swift, somebody who’s relevant rather than just a contest winner.

So there were a few interesting decisions in last night’s episode here it seemed like you might not have agreed. How often are you overruled by the other judges?

Simon Cowell: Well, this was a difficult one because it all happened so quickly. I think in hindsight it would have been much easier, but it couldn’t happen this way, that we could have had maybe five or six days to think about it and really review the performances. But we had limited time and decisions were made relatively quickly on the day. Then when you watch it back you think, “You know what? I could have made different decisions here.”

Is that maybe why you’re moving to your own show?

Simon Cowell: No, it’s not. Look, this happens on the shows I do in other countries. There’s always a moment when you look at something and think, “I’ve made a decision,” but you just have to live with that. Luckily, they can always re-audition the following year.

We’ve also heard Howard Stern and Perez Hilton are people in the running, or think they’re in the running, as your replacement. Who of those people would be your pick? What do you think someone who would replace you would need to have?

Simon Cowell: You have to be good looking. Secondly, I think you just have to know what you’re talking about. I think more and more now I’m starting to realize with these shows that we have to put people on the shows who actually know what they’re talking about rather than guessing. They really have to have experience so you don’t just criticize, but you can actually offer constructive advice as well.

And Howard, I know Howard’s name has been in there for a while, but I’m fairly certain that there hasn’t been an approach at any time for Howard to do the show.

What about Perez?

Simon Cowell: Perez – Perez would be funny. You know, he has a good taste in music, he’s a personality. I mean, that could work.

Could you address the stories about you and Ellen not getting along?

Simon Cowell: I wouldn’t say that we didn’t get on well. I don’t know Ellen that well. It was a difficult position for her because she started work on the Hollywood Week, which is quite a difficult show to do. There was one story I read that I turned up an hour late or something and that she wanted to film. I mean, the truth was I think I turned up 15 or 20 minutes late because I did a press conference earlier in the day and they did start filming, but that wasn’t a particular problem. But no, there was no fallout. I was trying to guide her through the week and that was about it, really.

What do you miss most about Paula?

Simon Cowell: Well, Paula’s my friend. I mean, amazingly, even though we used to argue a lot, she was somebody I just got very close to over the years. We’d hang out together after the show. She always made me laugh. I always thought she was funny. It was just like not having your friend on the show anymore. I do miss her.

I’m wondering if you can kind of size up Casey, Todrick, Tim Urban and Alex Lambert’s chances. Do you think any of them might be frontrunners?

Simon Cowell: Yes. I think those guys are relatively equal. I’m not sure any of them are going to win, so I’d put them all in about an equal position at the moment. Four in and you’ve got a good shot. It’s not a bad place to be.

What does it feel like for the whole nation to kind of say, “This guy is pretty much irreplaceable on the show? We don’t know who we would replace him with.”?

Simon Cowell: It’s very, very flattering. I really do appreciate it. Like I’ve said before, the show goes on. I’m going to feel sad when it all ends, but look, it’s much nicer to be popular than unpopular, so I do appreciate it.

You just made a comment earlier about the qualifications that a judge should have, kind of knowing what they’re talking about. This is something that Howard has been going on and on about, about his qualifications. I’m wondering if you could be a little more specific about how much music experience is really required for the job.

Simon Cowell: Well, I think it’s really important. It’s interesting that when we first started we had a record producer, an artist and an A&R man, so you’ve covered pretty much everything you need to do. I would say somebody who’s had managerial experience is always very helpful, but in simplistic terms it’s not as if you’re judge the ice skating at The Olympics; you’re going to give a score. You genuinely need to know what you’re talking about. I think over the years judges have been replaced by personalities. That, in the long-term, will create problems because you have to be able to spot a star. So whoever replaces me, my advice has always been to find somebody who actually knows what they’re talking about and has actually experienced success in the music business.

How does that apply to Howard?

Simon Cowell: As I was saying, I thought, “He doesn’t seem to fit any of these criteria.” He’s played records. Maybe that’s a good qualification, that he’s played records. He’s a DJ. But he obviously wants the job. Good luck to him.

What can you tell us about what happened with Chris Golightly? How did he do? What do you remember from him in Hollywood Week?

Simon Cowell: I remember Chris’s first audition very well because Kara was completely and utterly besotted with him. I wasn’t quite so keen on him and then the second time we saw him – the second or third time, whatever it was – in Hollywood Week he wasn’t as strong as he was on his first audition. I really honestly don’t have a clue why he’s been removed from the competition. I’m guessing it’s some sort of technical reason. It’s a shame for him. He needed this opportunity.

Would you let him audition on X-Factor?

Simon Cowell: I have to find out what the reason is, first of all. It was something like a technical reason, yes, of course he could.

Since this is your last year, I’m wondering what mentors are you hoping to work with, if there’s anyone that you haven’t gotten to work with yet or have on the show that you’re just dying to have on?

Simon Cowell: That’s a good question. Who comes to mind? We’ve had some pretty good people, haven’t we? I think we should have Lady GaGa because she is the most relevant pop artist in the world at the moment. I think she should be number one. I’ve met her and she’s very smart. I like her.

Obviously, there are some really good singers this year. You guys did a good job picking them, but obviously some have less than what you would call Hollywood looks. So how do you balance what’s good for the TV show with what’s good for the music industry?

Simon Cowell: Again, it’s a good question. I mean, the reason we put a variety of people through is I think primarily on talent and interest in them as people. I think if you just pick everybody because they look the way you think they should look – it happened a few years ago. I remember every blond girl in the competition looked identical; I couldn’t tell one from the other. I think it’s important that you can recognize talent and personalities, so I think it’s good that we have a mixed bag this year.

The sob stories, do those have any impact on the judges?

Simon Cowell: Not really. Not on me. I’ve heard so many of them over the years. It’s about remembering people. Part of the problem when you do this show, from the auditions to the Hollywood round, is that most people you can’t remember. If you can remember somebody, it’s a good place to start.

Atlanta is the home to General Larry “Pants on the Ground.” I wanted to get your take on the whole phenomenon. It just sort of blew out into this worldwide thing.

Simon Cowell: You know, it’s an interesting thing because when he came on the show, it’s one of the reasons why on X-Factor we didn’t put an age cap on the show. I always found a lot of these older contestants really funny, interesting, whether it’s him or somebody like Susan Boyle. So I have to tell you, for him, I’m absolutely thrilled that all this has happened for him because he needed the break. I’m glad it’s worked out well.

Simon, you’ve said a couple of times in talking about a potential replacement that they need experience in the music business, someone who actually knows what they’re talking about and who’s had success in the music business. Are those comments directed at Ellen?

Simon Cowell: Funnily enough, I was thinking that as I was saying this that people are going to misinterpret what I am saying. No. I’ll tell you why I think Ellen was a good choice. She actually is very responsible for people she has performing on her own show. I know that for a fact because I’ve dealt with her as a record label. And she loves music and she’s been an artist, so no, it wasn’t meant to diss her credentials; it was specifically talking about my replacement because my roll on the show was somebody who has run a successful record label. So it was really specifically towards my replacement.

What you think the two Boston round contestants – Ashley Rodriguez and Siobhan Magnus – need to do to stay in the running on the show?

Simon Cowell: I think you have to be original. I remember David Cook. The reason he did so well and suddenly came into the front when he competed was that he managed to find interesting versions of well-known songs and did them in his style. I remember the first time he performed a Lionel Richie song, “Hello”, and turned it into a rock song. Or he found the Chris Cornell version of “Billie Jean”. He was smart. I would say the same thing to these two contestants: don’t always do the obvious; try to find something which is more unique and interesting to you. And suck up to me. That always helps.

What we’ve seen so far has been a lot of editing and stuff, but with the live show coming up I was just wondering if you’re going to try to maybe take a driving instructor role this year and sort of just take the wheel when needed or if you’re going to stay as visible as you have been?

Simon Cowell: Look, it’s always frustrating, I suppose, on an edited show because it’s an edited show. That’s why I prefer doing live TV. What I always do when I do these live shows is not go in there with any sort of preconceived idea of what it’s going to be like or what people are going to be like. Be in the moment and always do what I’ve done in my career, which is to hopefully make the right decisions. If that means disagreeing with people, I don’t have a problem with that; I never have. You are there to be honest, truthful and hopefully give constructive advice. Most importantly, say what you think people at home are thinking.

Even when we hear of you leaving, are you still going to stay as visible as you have been and not turn the reins over?

Simon Cowell: That would be impossible. No, I’ll keep to my seat. I’ll hopefully be the last one to speak. It’s always easier to be the last one rather than the first one. I want to go out on a high. I mean, I’ve said this over and over again, that it’s my last season and I want it to be successful. I’ll do everything I can to make it happen.

There has been tremendous speculation about who could possibly replace you on American Idol. My question is has anybody contacted you personally about wanting the job? And, if you could choose, if you had your pick, who would be your dream replacement?

Simon Cowell: Well, you’re never going to pick anyone as good as you, are you? So that’s why I don’t think anybody really asks me that question. I mean, I can give general advice, as I said before. I think the important thing is what I said earlier on – and you’ve seen this on a lot of shows- you see people put in a role to play a certain role, which has become quite tiresome, when people always describe that person as the mean judge or whatever it is. You just have to find somebody who can actually make a difference to the contestants, who’s not afraid to speak their mind, who’s prepared to be honest and occasionally blunt, but not to be gratuitously rude. I’m really getting tired of all of that now. But look, there’ll be a lot of people, as you know, who want the job. I think ironically, it’s going to help next season because I think there’s going to be a lot of interest as to who replaces me.

Who could do it, in your mind?

Simon Cowell: Who could do it in my mind? If I really knew the answer to that question I wouldn’t tell you.

Has anybody contacted you about wanting the job? I’m sure you’re getting a lot of calls.

Simon Cowell: No, I haven’t actually. I’ve had a couple of calls, but they were quite boring people and never stood a chance. No, they’ll be contacting FOX, I think, if they really want this job. Or do what Howard’s been doing – just basically talking about it on his show I think is brilliant.

So I know you say that you don’t want to say who would like to replace you, how do you feel about Noel Gallagher from Oasis. He’s crabby.

Simon Cowell: Noel Gallagher. Do you think people would understand him? I know Noel quite well and I like him. He’s very funny and he is a brilliant songwriter. It’s a possibility. Look, the good news for them is there is no shortage of candidates. There are a lot of people. The hardest thing, actually, about finding a replacement is that when you hear people’s names like Madonna, it will never happen because you have to give a massive, massive time commitment. That’s always been the problem when you’re trying to find people to do these shows. You have to find people who are prepared to give up that much time.

Don’t you feel it has to be a British person? It seems like you set the trend that it has to be a British person, like a Piers Morgan or someone like that.

Simon Cowell: Again, Piers works for me and does a great job on America’s Got Talent. This person specifically has to have a lot of experience in the music business. It is the most important thing. That’s what I think will happen. I think they’ll find somebody who has that kind of experience, whether it’s a manager, artist or … somebody like that, I’m sure.

Interview By: Emma Loggins

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