Simon Cowell made a surprise appearance at a screening of the first two episodes of The X Factor UK today in London. Of a possible return to the show he departed in 2010, he told the BBC, “I wouldn’t rule it out.” Cowell has been expected to make special appearances on the upcoming season, but up until now word has been that he wouldn’t make a full-time return. Today’s BBC report suggests he didn’t jettison the idea entirely, but he also didn’t elaborate whether his input will be more than occasional guest spots, or potential sit-ins when other judges might sit out. It’s more likely he was speaking about the future, given that the show already has four judges locked for the season that kicks off on August 31: Gary Barlow, Nicole Scherzinger, Louis Walsh and Sharon Osbourne, who is coming back to the show after leaving in 2007. If he were to come back in a ramped-up capacity this year, he’d be shuttling back-and-forth between the British version and Fox’s X Factor in the U.S. The American shows air during the week and the UK episodes are at the weekend meaning he’d be logging quite a bit of fast-turnaround air travel.

The X Factor UK’s contract with ITV expires this year and negotiations are underway for renewal. The Guardian reported earlier this month that ITV was urging Cowell to come back to the singing competition in 2014 as part of the parties’ new negotiations. The thinking being that a Cowell return could help goose ratings after last December’s finale hit a six-year low. When Cowell originally left X Factor UK it was to concentrate on the Fox version which is now going into its 3rd season. That show has had some growing pains – Cowell recently likened S2 to a bad dinner party. But he’s firmly involved in the upcoming season which kicks off Stateside on September 11. The revamped UK series debuts its 10th season this weekend and Cowell said, “It’s here to stay, it feels fresh, it’s revived. I feel really good about the future.” Changes for the 10th season include double auditions, one set in front of the judges “in an intimate audition room”, and the second again with the judges, but in an arena. “It’s just so easy after 10 years to get lazy and make the same show again,” Cowell said at the London press launch.

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