No one would ever accuse X Factor judge Simon Cowell of lacking confidence, but the reality show mogul believes without a doubt that one of his protégés in the Groups category will win this season of the singing competition.
"The groups are a million times better than last year," Cowell said on a conference call Tuesday. "Some of them I could really, really see having a big future outside this competition."
That's not to say they won't face stiff competition. Cowell believes Britney Spears has the strongest group overall (the Teens), and says Jennel Garcia, in Demi Lovato's Young Adult category, also has a shot. But as for L.A. Reid with the Over-25s? "No chance whatsoever," Cowell said.
The X Factor moves into the live rounds with a two-hour episode Wednesday, when each of the top 16 contestants will perform. It will be followed by an hourlong episode Thursday, when certain contestants will be designated "safe" at the start of the show. The ones who aren't will compete in a series of sing-offs, according to Cowell, and some will be eliminated. There's no guarantee that the remaining contestants will be evenly distributed among the four judges, Cowell said. Beginning next week, the audience will vote to determine who stays in the competition.
Wednesday's show will also mark the introduction of new hosts Khloe Kardashian and Mario Lopez. Asked about the decision to have two hosts, Cowell quipped, "We're going to find out very soon whether it was a good idea or a terrible idea." But he said he hopes they take more of an active role in the competition than last season's host, Steve Jones, did.
"He didn't seem to have an opinion on any of the performances, and I think what's important with hosts is they're allowed to pitch in as well as the judges," Cowell said. "I see a host's role to be a fan as well as a host. ... They're there to have opinions."
Though Lopez is a veteran TV personality, it will be the first such gig for Kardashian — but Cowell isn't worried. "I thinks she's had her doubters, and I think she wants to prove anyone who's doubted her that she's capable of doing the job," he said. "She really has got a fun personality, and I think she gets what her role is. I think she's there to be a voice for the contestants and to have fun with it."
As for the new judges this season, Spears and Lovato, Cowell says he's pleased with the way both have handled their new roles thus far. "I think she's been a lot better than everybody thought," he said of Spears, but admitted "I don't know what she's going to be like on a live show. It's a very, very different setup than the auditions."
He also defended Lovato's decision to cut fan favorite Jillian Jensen in the Judges' Homes round. "I know people were concerned about losing Jillian," he said. "You've got to choose people who can be entertainers. And I kind of admire Demi for making that decision, because she really liked her as a person but she just went with her gut instinct."
Now that the final 16 have been decided, Wednesday will mark the start of the real test — seeing how they respond to the pressure of performing in front of a live audience, and how the audience responds to them. "I think people are going to get blown away by the talent this year," Cowell says. "It's so much better than what we did last year."
The X Factor returns Wednesday at 8/7 on Fox.