I’ll have more from my exclusive interview with Simon Cowell later tonight. But, for now, I can report that Cowell has told me all about how he’s been assembling his judge’s panel for his U.S. version of The X Factor which debuts this fall on Fox. “First of all, it’s like casting a dinner party. You’ve got to have people on the panel you get on well with.” But in my opinion this is sounding like the most boring dinner party ever and I wouldn’t bother staying tuned through dessert. Though recently he admitted that the process has shown publicly “complete and utter indecisiveness”, he made it clear to me he has finally decided on his judging panel.
Cowell tells me that in addition to himself and Antonio “L.A.” Reid, the chairman of Island Def Jam Music Group who resigned to join The X Factor panel on Fox (and about whom Simon said “was my No. 1 choice to sit alongside me on the show”), he has made up his mind to bring back Paula Abdul beside him and to add a Brit singer convicted of assault who’s unknown to American audiences, Cheryl Cole. Of course, Cowell was once an unknown here, too. I understand from Cowell that negotiations for Abdul’s deal haven’t even started and that Cole’s deal isn’t quite done yet. And of course, he could change his mind.
But an insider tells me about Cole that “she’s pretty much a shoo-in for for the show” and will be announced as a judge within less than a week. When I asked Simon about “this Cole woman” who began judging on the 5th season of Cowell’s British version of The X Factor which is now in its 8th season, he laughed at my description of her. I opined about how hard it is for UK personalities to click with U.S. audiences. Though she has her own widely imitated catchphrase there telling wannabe contestants they are “really, really luv-erly” in her incomprehensible Newcastle accent and has become a UK tabloid obsession, over here she’ll just be another nobody. (As Jennifer Lopez asked recently, “She is a singer, right?”)
But Cowell responded: “I never think about it as an American or British audience. I genuinely don’t. I think that’s what’s happened on a lot of these shows now is it’s almost like you’ve got to hire well known celebrities to be a judge. And with Cheryl, when I hired her initially, I’d only met her literally once when I offered her the job on [British] X Factor. I thought she was bright, cute, knew what she was talking about, ambitious. And you meet someone special a few times in your life.. And this girl is special. She’s just got a great ability to communicate. Shes a great judge. She’s smart. It’s just a hunch. If people take to her like the British public did, I think she’s going to do really well in America. And Fox was desperate to hire her.”
“Really?” I asked. “I heard there was pushback from Fox.”
“No, absolute opposite,” Cowell claimed. “Mike Darnell and Peter Rice will tell you they wanted her all the time, I showed a tape to Mike Darnell two years ago of a clip I’d shot in England of Cheryl and he said there and then, ‘I’d hire her now for Idol.’ They absolutely fell in love with her. In a way, the deal, it was almost conditional on Cheryl having the gig. They were desperate for her.”
“So,” I said, “wouldn’t it then be expected to have someone quote-unquote famous also on the panel besides you?”
“Yes. Very,” Simon replied. “I’ve always wanted Paula. Always been very vocal about that. I missed her the second she left the show. Always loved working with her even though she can be a pain. And I’ve been consistent about this. I don’t know what it is about her, but I’ve always clicked with her. You just have to get that chemistry, and she’s right. I’ve never found anyone better than her. I think there’s a good chance it will be her. We’ve agreed that we would meet as many people as possible, and now we’re reaching the deadline we’ve got to make the decision soon. But I think she’s got a really good shot.”
But Cowell poo-poo’ed my suggestion that Abdul now may be too overexposed after serving as a judge on American Idol for 8 years and then departing amid a huge outcry from fans who wanted her to stay, and then moving on to headline another TV talent series as lead judge, CBS’s lame and derivative Live to Dance, which debuted in January 2011 only to be canceled after one season. Simon and Abdul are close friends and he made no secret on and off Idol that he didn’t want her to leave and that he disliked her successors, Kara DioGuardi and Ellen DeGeneres.
Make no mistake: I admire Simon as a consummate showman who knew exactly how to manipulate