Simon Cowell

Simon Cowell says the death of a Paula Abdul superfan who once auditioned for American Idol is different from every other controversy that has touched the hit program.

"I have to separate this controversy from others, because you are talking about a human tragedy," Cowell stressed during a Tuesday conference call with reporters. "It hit us like an express train. [It] upset me a lot."

Abdul has described Paula Goodspeed as a stalker, and her fixation on Abdul began years before her audition. But some have wondered if the harsh criticism she received at her Season 5 try-out may have fueled her despondency. Goodspeed died of an apparent suicide outside Abdul's Los Angeles home on Nov. 11.

"When something like this happens, it does make you take a step back," Cowell said. "But you assume that everyone who enters American Idol kind of knows the score, that if you're not great, you'll get criticism."

Do the judges (now four in total, with the Season 8 addition of singer-songwriter Kara DioGuardi) plan to temper their critiques moving forward? Not likely, said Cowell.

"In the main, we try to have a sense of humor .... The show is not an inherently mean show. It is an American dream show where the whole purpose is to find somebody — it could be a cocktail waitress like Kelly Clarkson — who through the process becomes a star. I've always thought it was important to show people at home that when a bad singer comes in ... it's time to give up that dream and take a normal job."

As for the press coverage of Goodspeed's death, and its affect on Idol, Cowell knows reporters must do what they must do. "The media have been incredibly supportive of our show since Day 1, and they have every right to question it. All we can do is respond with the truth in return."