Why did Simon Cowell and the producers of Fox's The X Factor decide to offer contestants the biggest grand prize on television? To make everybody a little nervous, Cowell says.
The X Factor to offer $5 Million grand prize
"By putting up that kind of prize money, it's a massive, massive risk. But it's also an incredible incentive," Cowell told reporters Monday of the decision to offer the winning X Factor act a $5 million recording contract. "I think it puts everybody, rightly, under an enormous amount of pressure. I didn't want to go into this show without a feeling a certain amount of pressure, because with pressure, you've got to find a star.
"I think if we can't find a global star, then I would say we failed," Cowell added. "I can't put it any clearer than that. There is that person or that group sitting in America right now waiting to be discovered. [The money proves] we are genuinely, genuinely serious about this. We believe that there is somebody with that star quality out there."
Finding that star on X Factor, slated for a fall premiere on Fox, will be a much more hands-on process for the judges. In keeping with the original British version of the show, each panelist will act as a mentor for certain contestants.
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"I wanted to do a show where judges could help competitors on a weekly basis," Cowell said, comparing the job to his days as an A&R rep at a record label. "It's more interesting to me; it definitely gives me something more to do. When an artist wins, you win. It really does become an incredible competition with judges, in a way more than the artists, because we don't pretend to like each other."
Cowell said a decision about who will sit beside him on the panel will be made in the next three or four weeks. He says he's looking for people who could one-up him in battle. "I have to put people on this panel who I genuinely think could be better than me, so it becomes a real competition," he said. "It is a very, very different principle. It's easy to make comments, but when you have to put together the entire performance yourself and your fellow judges are judging you, it's very intimidating."
As for his particular style of judging, don't look for many changes from his Idol days. "I've started to cringe over the years when I started to see people being booked as the mean judge and just being gratuitously rude for the sake of it. I just don't like that," he said. "I have my own style. I like to think I'm honest. I wouldn't sugarcoat something just to make myself popular, and I'm going to try and be consistent to how I've been over the years. That's the way I'm going to approach it."
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Another thing that separates X Factor from Idol is that the judges watch the auditions in front of a live audience, which allows them to see how artists connect with potential viewers. "I don't believe Susan Boyle would have gotten through in the old-fashion audition method," Cowell said. "God only knows what we would have said to [Lady Gaga] if she walked into Idol with a lobster on her head three years ago."
While The X Factor will be open to singers like Boyle, Cowell is also excited to have kids as young as 12 years old audition — an opinion he didn't always have.
"I think times have changed," Cowell said. "There are some incredibly talented young kids out there. We've started to see a trend of what kids this age are capable of doing. ... They've got their own opinions; they know what they're doing. You look at someone like Willow Smith — here's a trend happening at the moment. I think it would have been wrong to exclude them."
And what does Cowell think of Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler, who replaced him this season on American Idol? "I haven't seen a full episode," he said. "I saw a three-minute recap. From what I've seen and from what I've heard, it all seems to be going well. And I always thought that would be the case.
"What I was more concerned about was the ratings falling off a cliff, meaning that the whole genre might be over," Cowell continued. "The good news is that people are still excited about these shows, whether it be ... Dancing With the Stars, which has gotten better over the years, America's Got Talent. ... People, thank God, still watch these shows and that gives me more confidence when we launch [ours]."
The X Factor premieres this fall on Fox. For more information on auditions, click here.