This is it – the show that the bluntly controversial judge Simon Cowell left American Idol for. The X Factor, created by Cowell, has been on British TV for seven years. The competition gives viewers the opportunity to help choose the next global superstar or breakout music group. Along with Cowell to judge the singers are Paula Abdul (yes, they’re together again), LA Reid and Nicole Scherzinger, who traveled the nation searching for undiscovered talent 12 years old or over, both solo artists and vocal groups.
Simon spoke with the TV Critics during their tour about this British import which is so special to him.
How is this show different from American Idol?
I wouldn’t have made the show unless I thought it was going to be different. And it’s taken me a while with Fox to decide when we were going to do this. We felt the time was ready now.
We’re going to try and find a completely different kind of contestant. Our job as judges is to find people who’ve got star quality, and turn them into stars. For me, because I’ve worked both on American Idol and The X Factor for seven years, the shows were completely different, even though they were both talent competitions.
What are the differences between the show in England and America?
The essence of the show was that you have solo artists versus groups.
The first thing Mike Darnell at Fox said was he wanted to lower the age range down to 12. And after thinking about it, we agreed to it. And he was a hundred percent right to do that. As with the UK show, there’s no upper limit.
What we try and do in every territory is let the producers make their own [decisions], and we change our minds week to week sometimes, depending on what we think is right for the audience. The winner [of this series] is guaranteed to walk away with $5 million in cash.
There are rumors that Mariah Carey will be on the show.
Yeah, there are certain sections on the show, which I don’t want to give too much away now, where we do have well-known people helping us.
I’m hoping Mariah will get involved in those sections. I spoke with her the other day, and she’s been enthusiastic from day one, but then selfishly got pregnant, which is why she didn’t end up as a judge.
How concerned are you about shows like The Voice, where you’ve got mentoring going on similar to yours?
We’ve been on the air for seven years now in the UK. And we’ve always had mentoring. I think they started two years ago, and they had mentoring. But that happens.
I think it’s important for anyone [to know] because The Voice went out before The X Factor, that we were on the air before them, and this was something which we always felt was unique to us.
How we work with the contestants, how that is shown on the show, who you end up working with is very different to The Voice.
This season American Idol the judges got all warm and cuddly with the contestants. From the promos for The X Factor, that’s definitely not the road that you’re going down.
Well, we didn’t make an intentional effort to be mean. That’s just us! It’s just what happens on the show. The contestants are mean to us, and sometimes we can be harsh back to them. It’s give and take. But we didn’t want to make a deliberate, ‘They’re a warm show, so we’re a cold show.’
I think it’s really important when you make reality TV, that it is as real as possible. And I genuinely do believe that when people see this show, it doesn’t look like anything you’ve seen before.
The team we use we’ve been working with for a long time. They’re brilliant. There are cameras hidden all through this process, so you’re seeing a real process not even the contestants are aware of and, half the time, I’m not even aware of.
Are there contestants that you’ve seen in the auditions that you already believe are winners?
There are in my opinion, out of the four categories – the boys, the girls, the groups, and the older category – I could argue the case for six, seven people who could win this show.
The judges are going to work with these contestants, and this is a really important point regarding the mentoring, you’re going to see and hear performances on this show genuinely which you’ve never seen before on TV.That will all start unfolding when you see the live shows.
This looks like nothing else you’ve ever seen before.
You’ve said in the past on American Idol that the public is never wrong. Do you still feel that way, because we’ve seen any number of shows, including Idol, where the runner-up has consistently gone on to a better music career than the winner?
It’s a good point. If I didn’t trust the public, then we wouldn’t have the audience vote, and we’d make all the decisions ourselves.
I think you’ve got to be careful what kind of contestants you put in because at the end of the day it should be a talent competition, not a popularity [contest].
What we’re trying to do is expand the voting system on this show, which is to allow as many people to vote in as many different ways as possible, like online voting.
I have to trust the audience, and I think they will get it right.