Having the opportunity to listen in on a conference call with Simon Cowell recently, I heard a little more of the nicer side of Simon that we all know resides in there, even if it is way deep down. Last year, he began letting it out a little, as we saw him be quite tender and caring with the kids in Africa during Idol Gives Back, and later he talked about his love for animals with Ellen DeGeneres on her show. During this call, we didn’t necessarily hear the soft side of Simon, but we heard a man that surprisingly doesn’t have much ill will.
Perhaps Simon just simply speaks the truth, or at least the truth as he sees it. He was asked how agonizing it was to sit through the bad auditions, and if it made it worth it in the end to see a deserving winner crowned. Simon admitted it was worth it in the end, but that the auditions are not fun for him, as it is “becoming increasingly like torture.” Even after seven season, they had some really shockingly bad people this year who still believe they’re right and he’s wrong. Yet, he thinks you have to have that, as if you “sanitized” the process, it would be the most boring. He sums it up saying it was fun to watch, but torture to do it.
Simon is asked a question that I had been wondering, what he makes of the “disparate” success of a handful of ex-Idol contestants being nominated for Grammys this year, yet winners, and the only men to do so, Taylor Hicks and Ruben Studdard, being dropped from their label this week. He chalks it up to the unpredictability of the music business, and says they seem to have gotten it right more than they got it wrong. He would have figured Ruben to be on his third or fourth successful album by now. This was where I would have expected Simon to cut Taylor down, since we knew he wasn’t his favorite to win, yet he didn’t, taking the high road, it seems.
When asked by a reporter from Dallas about any specific moments that stood out from this year’s Dallas auditions, he knows this answer will make us hate him, but he can’t remember who came from which city after the auditions. Yet, when he watches it back, the same time we do, it all comes flooding back. Amazingly, he says the only one that can remember is Paula Abdul, as she seems to have a photographic memory for those things. Simon completely ignores the opportunity to cut Paula down here, something I never thought I’d hear.
Similarly, with the auditions moving to Omaha this season, an Omaha reporter asked if he remembered anything in particular from these auditions. And this is where the softer side of Simon does start to come out. He reports that in Omaha they found some of the nicest people they’ve met, as they were incredibly welcoming. He feels what was particularly great about Omaha, as compared to New York, was that it was more exciting for them, and there was a naivete about the process, making it seem like the first season again. He felt as if they were in the heart of America,, and he really enjoyed himself in Omaha. Who would have thunk it?
A reporter from Philadelphia wondered if because the season kicks off next week with the Philadelphia auditions, if that was a bad sign for them. Simon disputes this, saying it was simply the first city they went to, and because of that, they were all still in a good mood, being more generous there. He does remember it being somewhat crazy, and remembers coming away thinking, “Wow, that was an experience.” Although, he wants it known it was certainly not like like year’s Seattle auditions. We can all be thankful of that.
Asked for his feelings about Jordin Sparks’ and Blake Lewis’ first albums in light of the poor sales, Simon admits to natural disappointment they didn’t sell more or that either of them has “caught on fire,” as they of course look for a Carrie, Daughtry, or Kelly every time where they’re competing with “the Mariahs and everyone else.” He’s not particularly surprised, though, but again, he points to the unpredictability of the business. They gave the public what they wanted, but they decided that wasn’t what they ultimately wanted. Also again, he points to them being reliant on the people that walk through the door on any given season, and this year, he thinks they’re in a much better spot.
Simon is asked about the comments from producers Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick saying at the end of the last season that perhaps the mentoring talent had overshadowed the contestants. He tends to agree, saying he understands how they need to run the show, as they don’t have a huge amount of time to get everything in, and only a small amount of time is given to the film piece before the contestant sings. If they are being mentored in that time, it doesn’t leave a lot of time for the audience to get to know the contestant. If you would ask what he knows about “the girl that won last year,” he doesn’t know much other than she sings well (and apparently not even her name), because too much time was focused on her chats with J-Lo and Diana Ross. This year they plan to focus much more on the contestants and provide a good balance.
As for what other changes are being made this year and how they plan to rectify other problems from last season, Simon believes that 90% of what happened last year was very good, yet they’re “completely, utterly reliant on who walks in the door” in terms of quality of contestants. Most of the focus this year was on creating a better and more interesting top 12, and he feels they accomplished that. There is also a new set, and they tried a few things in Hollywood, such as letting the singers play instruments.
As for his own personal favorite, Simon feels he’s gotten in trouble naming names too early, so he says he won’t do that just yet, but perhaps he will in a few weeks. He feels they are lucky this year to have three or four very strong guys and three or four very strong girls as well, which will make it one of the most open competitions they’ve had. He won’t call out a winner at this stage, but he has a good idea of who could make it there. One person that won’t be there is Fantasia’s brother. They were excited to see him walk in to the auditions, yet once he started singing, Simon notes they disputed whether he really was her brother because he certainly didn’t have her talent.