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Simon Cowell on the 'X Factor,' whether Lady Gaga's got it, and whether Paula Abdul will judge on his show

February 7, 2011 |  2:01 pm

Simon-cowell-x-factor As the Super Bowl warned us, he's back, and not long after the Packers won, Simon Cowell's seven-month-countdown-slash-publicity-bonanza for "X Factor" went into full swing.

On Monday, Fox announced that Cowell's new music talent show will provide the winner with a $5-million record deal -- the largest guaranteed prize in television history –- with Syco, a joint venture between Sony Music and Cowell.

During a conference call later that day, Cowell said the stakes were higher for "X Factor" than other competition shows because the prize is bigger, the age range more expansive (contestants must be older than 12, but there's no upper-end age limit), the judges will be more invested in the outcome (each judge will mentor "X Factor" hopefuls) and contestants will audition before a live audience of up to 5,000 people in an arena.

"It was supposed to be similar to them doing their first concert," he said. "It really helped show me who could handle the pressure."

He also said that audience feedback was vital. "There have been many, many times on these shows where I've hated somebody and practically had a mutiny going on behind me." He admitted that the crowd sometimes discovered stars that he wouldn't have greenlighted on his own. "I don't believe Susan Boyle would have gone through in the old-fashioned audition method," he said.

Which judges would be deliberating on that je ne sais quoi, he wouldn't say. (He'll make that announcement in the next three or four weeks.) But when asked if Paula Abdul would be involved, he seemed to leave that door open. "I’m a massive fan of Paula," he said, adding that he'd "been in regular contact" with Abdul since he had left "Idol."

When prodded about whether British "X Factor" judge Cheryl Cole would be included, he would only say that the panel was open to Brits and Americans alike, as long as they were willing to put in the effort required to mentor contestants on a daily basis and recognize that star quality when they saw it.

"Over the years you've seen a different type of artist emerge," he explained, noting that charisma has become just as important as chops. "A good example of that is Lady Gaga. God only knows what we would have said to her if she'd walked into 'Idol' three years ago with a lobster on her head. I don't know. But she's got it."

Auditions for the show, which premieres this fall, will start at the end of March.


Despite record industry perils, Simon Cowell is ready to offer $5-million record deal

-- Melissa Maerz

Photo: Simon Cowell. Credit: Joel Ryan / Associated Press