Does Simon Cowell think his lineup of X Factor judges are deliberately mean to contestants? Well, not deliberately.
During Fox's fall TV preview Friday, American Idol's former acerbic kingpin was asked if the harsh judgments seen in commercials for The X Factor were an intentional contrast with the "cuddly with contestants" vibe of last season's Idol.
"We didn't make an intentional effort to be mean," Cowell told reporters via satellite. "That's just in us. The contestants are mean to us, sometimes we can be harsh to them. It's give and take." The other judges are Paula Abdul, music executive L.A. Reid and singer-Sing-Off judge Nicole Scherzinger. Audition rounds, which were shot before live audiences, have already been filmed.
However, bickering between judges, also formerly an Idol hallmark, appears to be a big part of X Factor. When asked how the reunion with Cowell has gone, Abdul said, "It's nice to be back in a demented relationship. It's like home. It's like we're an old married couple." Cowell followed: "I think it's like Exorcist 2."
The plan, in any case, is to crush Idol. "You don't start something for the silver medal," Cowell said. "I wouldn't have made the show unless I thought it was going to be different. We see this as a game-changer; we're going to try and change the rules." Among the other differences to Idol: Contestants as young as 12 years old can compete, the show will entertain both solo artists and groups, the auditions are held in front of live audiences, and mentoring will be a major part of the process.
Asked if Fox's two major singing competitions could co-exist — alongside NBC's The Voice and The Sing-Off — Cowell seemed confident that they could. "The idea that there was only ever going to be one singing show in America is crazy," he said. "The Voice came along, and we're going to come on during a time of year where there aren't any [similar singing competitions].
"We've got to design X Factor for people who have never seen these [type of] shows before," Cowell added.
Cowell isn't worried that NBC's The Voice beat them to the punch in including judge-mentors for the contestants. "How we work with the contestants and how that is shown on the show... it is very different to The Voice," he said. And with regards to mentors, Cowell said there is truth in the speculation that Mariah Carey would turn up on the show. "There will be certain sections on the show where we have well-known people helping us. I spoke to her the other day," he said. "She's been enthusiastic since Day 1 — but then she selfishly got pregnant and that's why she isn't a judge."
As for the ousting of Cheryl Cole, originally a judge on the U.K.'s X Factor before being hired on the U.S. version, Cowell said that after they shot two episodes, he felt Cole would be "more comfortable" back on the U.K. show. "I offered her the U.K. job, which she accepted," he said. "When [the news] went public, the negotiations fell apart." He added it had nothing to do with speculation that she didn't get along with Abdul. "If it was a question of not getting on with Paula, then I wouldn't be on the show," he said.
The winner of The X Factor is guaranteed to walk away with a $5 million recording contract. Fox also announced Friday that the winner will also be the star of a Pepsi commercial that will air during next year's Super Bowl. "It's a money-can't-buy prize," Cowell said.
The X Factor premieres Wednesday, Sept. 21 at 8/7c on Fox.