The X Factor – An Interview with Simon Cowell and L.A. Reid

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Simon, with just three weeks away, are you expecting that you’ll have the other two judges by then?

Simon Cowell: The live auditions you’ve just spoken about, these are the ones which aren’t filmed, these are the open auditions. So we probably don’t need to confirm the new judges by then. That will happen over the next few weeks.

L.A. if had it worked out and had Whitney still been alive, do you think it would have been probable that she would have ended up as a judge this year?

L.A. Reid: You know what, we love Whitney and we would have certainly considered it, but the truth is it never quite came to that. There was an interest there, but we never actually had meetings about it. But again, we’re both huge fans of Whitney and we’re very sad about the loss of Whitney, but we didn’t really get that far. So I don’t think it’s proper to comment beyond that.

Regarding the judges, there’s talk of Britney Spears now, names mentioned are Fergie and Janet Jackson, do you have any comment on any of them?

Simon Cowell

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S. Cowell: There’s a load of speculation, some true, some not true. It’s true to say that a lot more people have entered the frame this year and we really waited to see who was going to contact us before we actually contacted people. We are in that place right now, which is a good place to be in. We will meet a number of people over the next few weeks, mainly to explain to them that this is a big commitment when you do a show like this because of the mentoring aspect. But I can’t confirm or deny any of these rumors at the moment.

A lot of negative reaction was seen last year with some of the judges deciding to throw things over to how the {public} had voted instead of the judges making a decision, when you have two people having a sing off. Are you going to be doing anything this year so that won’t happen again, {i.e.:} change the rules or make it so the judges understand that they need to make that decision and not throw it back to the public?

S. Cowell: Essentially this sing off was really intended to save somebody who we thought should stay in the competition but just had a bad night that night. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work according to plan, in particular with Rachel, because for whatever reason they decided to take it to the public. In defense of Nicole, I don’t think she thought for one second that the public could put Rachel in the bottom, but going forward I think it’s really important that we retain this, because it adds a bit of drama to the end of the results show. And more importantly, like I said before, it is intended, we call it the Jennifer Hudson save, if this process had been in place on Idol that week Jennifer would have still remained in the competition probably. So when it’s done properly it is supposed to help the better artists.

You’ve been concerned with the groups and you’ve mentioned that you thought that a group would actually make it a lot further along in the competition, maybe this next season. How would you ensure that would happen?

S. Cowell: When we started the show in the U.K. it did take us a few seasons before good groups emerged, and it’s quite interesting that we’re having this conversation this week because a group who were third on X Factor U.K. in 2010 are about to literally explode in America, One Direction, and there’s even a chance that their album may debut at number one when it’s released. I think that in itself is going to start making the points that groups can do well in these competitions, and I stand by what I said at a press conference last year, I think a group can win this show. We’re trying to encourage better groups to audition. You’ll see a significant difference in the quality of the groups this year, I’m absolutely convinced of that.

Hypothetically, if Britney did join the judging table, what do you think she would bring to the table?

L. A. Reid: That’s really slick. The only thing that you can count on is that we would likely have two girls. That, you can probably count on.

S. Cowell: I couldn’t comment on it. Are we flattered that there could be interest? Yes. Other than that you know there’s going to be a lot of twists and turns over the next few weeks and a lot of things we’re going to announce. But while you’ve got The Voice and Idol competing with each other, I’ve learned a big lesson: keep your mouth shut. Don’t give it all away.

Rachel Crow

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How excited are you for Rachel Crow and the big news she announced on {Wednesday}?

S. Cowell: It’s incredible. Bearing in mind the earlier question was really referring to the week where Rachel was kicked out, and I can remember sprinting on to the stage and saying to her, look, honestly, I genuinely believe in a weird way this is the best thing that’s ever happened to your career, which didn’t go down particularly well on that night. But a few days later it sunk in and we stuck to what we said, which was we’re going to make a commitment to you, the public are interested in you, and then along came Nickelodeon, which is such a perfect fit for her, and Columbia Records. And she is, and L.A. you’ve got to agree with this, she’s one of the most determined people I’ve ever met in my life.

L. A. Reid: You’re absolutely right. And from the very beginning we always felt that she had what it takes to become a major star, and she did have the “X” factor. Winning was difficult, but it didn’t stop the process. She’s going to still be a big star. I stand by that.

S. Cowell: I think it’s really important that it’s a show you have to want to win, that’s why we put the $5 million up. But at the same time I think that we did a good job in our first season of not just finding one great artist, but a number, and Rachel’s one of a few who’s going to have great careers, I think, off the back of this.

What is it about groups like One Direction that make them stand out in the auditions?

S. Cowell: Well, this particular group we actually put together, I made a decision that they hadn’t quite made it or weren’t really a solo artist, and the groups that year, I’ve got to admit, were terrible. And we kind of made a decision on the day that we should experiment and put these five guys together. They just felt right, the minute we had them all standing there we had a feeling this could work. But to be fair, it all came from them. They had all the ideas. They knew the kind of group they wanted to be. We gave them an awful lot of latitude. We never hyped the group or pushed it. It happened on its own momentum in America.

But it does prove the point that I think we’re entering a very exciting phase again of pop music and I think One Direction will be huge this year. But importantly for the American show, it’s going to attract hopefully the next ’N Sync or the next Backstreet Boys or the next Destiny’s Child, because there are not that many groups at the moment doing well in America, and this is a massive opportunity for them, and it does separate us from the other two shows.

Have you given any thought to if you’ll pay tribute to Whitney on the show and also in general how you hope her music and memory is kept alive for younger fans, like the people who watch your show and also for her daughter.

L. A. Reid: I was going to recommend as well that we do a Whitney segment, because the music is so amazing and it’s so generational and such a challenge for singers, because the songs are so well performed. I actually think that’s really a good comment, a good idea.

S. Cowell: I’ve got a feeling, L.A., just a hunch that you may see a Whitney tribute on The Voice and Idol before us. In which case if we decide to do it I think we have to do it in a different way. But the important thing is that we’re going to continually pay tribute to Whitney Houston on this show, because we love her, we love her songs, and there probably won’t ever be a season where you won’t hear a Whitney song. They’re timeless.

How do you hope that her, {Whitney Houston}, music reach the younger generation?

L. A. Reid: Great music tends to do that. What I noticed in our auditions last year were even some of the kids, like Rachel, for example, Rachel Crow did, I believe it was an Etta James song that really got her through. So when you have great music performed by great talents like Whitney Houston, it just tends to stand the test of time and it’s re-discovered by generations as time goes on. It’s not something that we actually have to perpetuate. It happens on its own because of the quality of the music and the artist that’s singing it.

S. Cowell: Yes, and she’s one of those rare artists where her songs literally are timeless. These songs are going to sound as good in 50 years time as they do now, whether we ever find anyone as good as her, well, that’s a whole different ballgame. But it’s going to be a very different feeling this time, though, when you hear artists come out and sing Whitney’s songs, because she’s not around anymore, and that’s that. But like I said, it’s a continual tribute to her.

Obviously Paula Abdul is not going to be with the show anymore. Simon, would you consider working with her on other projects in the future, are you guys still friends?

S. Cowell: For sure. I spoke to her on the night that it was announced, and to Steve. I was going to speak to Nicole that night, but we’re on different time zones so we couldn’t actually speak ourselves. But all of them have been incredibly gracious and respectful, and I feel the same way about them, they’re friends, and there were certain reasons why the changes were made. Our shows always have had to change and evolve over the years, and this particular time it was decided to do it sooner rather than later. But it wasn’t anything negative about them. I think there are huge opportunities for us working with all of them in different areas over the years, and I’m not just saying that. I think it actually will happen.

Chris Rene, Melanie Amaro and Josh Krajcik

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Let’s talk about a few of these guys have signed on for albums, what their status is, when it’s supposed to be released, and your expectations with the ones that have signed on so far.

L.A. Reid

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L. A. Reid: Melanie Amaro has signed on, Chris Rene, Josh Krajcik has a deal, Marcus Canty, Rachel, and Astro. This is {for} the ones I’m personally responsible for are making great progress. And I don’t have the release dates in front of me but we just released Chris Rene’s first single, we’re about to release Marcus Canty’s single in two weeks, and we’re still recording Melanie. Melanie is a very, very important and special artist because she’s the winner of The X Factor so it’s very important that we get it right and not just rush it out for the sake of having it out. But we really want music that can stand the test of time. She’s one of the greats and we want her record to reflect that. Astro is also recording with some great people like Farrell, he’s in Miami with Farrell and different producers like that, so we’re making a lot of progress with all of them. Again, Chris Rene’s single has already been released, and Marcus Canty’s in two weeks. It’s coming along well.

What was the motivation for adding the people with pre-existing contracts?

S. Cowell: Well, in the world we live in now, and as you know The Voice have done that, I think that we would be naïve assuming that the only great talent that you’re going to find are people who don’t have contracts. We’ve always said on this show that you’ve got to open it up to everyone, and L.A. and myself have both spoken about this, it’s got to be like the real world.

You mentioned that we’d definitely see two women on the panel and I wondered if you would elaborate on the host. Will you have two hosts or one, have you made any decision, and will it be a man or a woman? Any thoughts on that?

S. Cowell: There will be two. Yes, what we’ve learned on the show is you’ve got so much information you’ve got to relay as one person now, and I think it’s almost impossible to have one person doing a hosting job. You’ve got to give out so much information now on telephone lines, the integration with the sponsors, I mean, they’re like newscasters now these hosts. It’s a much, much bigger role. I think there’s a more fun way of doing it with two people, so that they can be in different parts of the studio throughout the show, and I think that you’re going to see a very different chemistry with two people. I always wanted a boy and a girl to host the show, and I think that’s definitely going to happen now.

L. A. Reid: It actually started, right, Simon, it actually started with Steve and Nicole, you had two hosts in the very beginning, so it’s consistent.

S. Cowell: A hundred percent. I think it’s going to make it more interesting, and I doubt the people who we’re hiring are current hosts, they might come from a different background.

Last year before the first season started I knew you said, I’m paraphrasing here, you said that you weren’t playing for second place in the ratings, when we talked about Idol and X Factor comparisons. Then when the first show launched the ratings were strong, but it wasn’t, I think as some anticipated, and Fox was saying don’t listen to Simon, he was just over-exaggerating a little bit, kind of your thoughts on that last year and any kind of ratings expectations for the season too.

S. Cowell: Well, I was misquoted. I actually said I hope we get more than two million last year, and someone added a zero. But we actually did better than expectations.

{What are} your expectations for season 2?

S. Cowell: I’m kidding, by the way, though. I shot my big mouth off as usual. But I always go into this with a sense of excitement. I was coming off of a massive year in the U.K. where we had gone over 20 million and then quickly realized I should have kept my mouth shut, because the figures were good. But what normally has happened with all of the shows I’ve ever done before, for every show I’ve ever been on the shows have grown over the years, whether it’s Idol, or X Factor, or Got Talent, we started with reasonable numbers and grown, and you’re seeing the same thing with The Voice, who are doing much better in the second season than the first season, because you learn. So I absolutely expect the second season to do better than the first season, and of course we’re competitive. I’m not doing this because you want to be third or fourth, you throw everything you can to give yourself a shot at winning. And I learned a lot from last year, genuinely learned a lot. And I think we’ve learned how we can make the show better and I like the fact that it’s got very competitive now. It’s kind of exciting.

Kevin Riley had made a comment about Ryan hosting with respect to Steve and saying that the hosting job was something that everyone underestimated and Fox didn’t realize at the time how much they appreciated Ryan. I was just wondering, there are always rumors about Ryan getting restless, would that ever be a possibility? And also, what do you think was so difficult about hosting? You went into a little bit about a lot of information, but other shows do it with one host.

S. Cowell: Yes, and they don’t always do it well. I think Ryan’s brilliant at what he does. I think Ryan’s also a very good negotiator and I admire him for that. He’ll stay on Idol. It’s time for a change. We’ve been doing this for 11 years, these shows, and you just can’t keep doing the same thing. I think we learned a lesson last year that the traditional host role on a show like this has to change into something else. Therefore, the show will look different and it will feel different. I do think it’s important, even though I’m going to probably talk myself out of a job here, that we have more Americans on the show. But I’m sort of American because I’ve been working there for ten years.

L. A. Reid: By the way, you can’t talk yourself out of a job because we’re not letting you go.

S. Cowell: No, I’m half American now.

L. A. Reid: And I’m half British, just for the record.

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