Interview: Simon Cowell – Music Executive and Television Producer

Posted: March 22, 2011 in film/tv, interview, music
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Simon CowellDate of Interview: 03/22/2011

Simon Cowell is the owner of Syco, a television production and music publishing house. Since the firm’s founding in 2002, the company has handled international acts, like Il Divo and Susan Boyle, in addition to producing Britain’s Got Talent and The X Factor, under the Syco Television banner. Outside of Cowell’s business ventures, the charismatic Britain garnered substantial notoriety for his role as a judge on American Idol (2001-2010). His honesty on the show, as well as his keen abilities to identify talent, led to his infamous reputation as a no-nonsense businessman.

Starting in September 2011, FOX will broadcast the first season of an Americanized version of Britain’s popular X Factor contest. As part of a promotional campaign for the show’s “open call” auditions, Simon Cowell managed to squeeze some time out of his busy schedule and settle down for an exclusive interview – reflecting on mentorship, the qualities of a “superstar,” and the difference between the British and American versions of X Factor.

As a singing competition, the X Factor is looking for America’s next breakout singer or vocal group. When evaluating artists, what do you consider to be characteristics that cast a spotlight on the “X Factor” within them?

Well, you’ve got to have more than just a good voice. You have to have charisma. You have to have what Beyonce has, which is that steely determination. And you’ve got to stand out from the crowd. You don’t want to be compared to somebody else. You want to be perceived as a unique artist. And that’s what we hope the show will do.

In what way do you think this show is prepared to identify such a talent?

Well, I think what I’m trying to do is reflect what is happening in the charts and what has been happening in the last twelve months. You have this massive range of artists that have almost beaten back the old guard, everyone from Justin Bieber to Nicki Minaj to Lady Gaga to Willow Smith. It has all suddenly become interesting again. And each of them has something unique about them. And that is what I want to find on this show. And this is what I want the show to reflect. I don’t want it to look like a traditional music talent show where everyone comes around singing songs from musicals.

The judges on X Factor will also act as mentors for the contestants. Do you think that the “X Factor” is something that is innate within a person, or do you think it can be developed and cultivated with proper mentoring?

We announced L.A. Reid as a judge last week. We can only imagine the impact he can have on one of these artists in the competition – because of the experience he’s had, and how many people he has written for or signed to his record label. When you have a one-to-one relationship with someone like that, I think you will find that there will be an improvement.

In what way will the American version of X Factor different from the British version?

It’s going to be a lot more extreme. I think you are going to see a lot more production values. In a way, we’ve tried to “super-size” what you’ve seen previously, so that this show has a very unique identity. And certainly the language and tone that you’ve seen over the past few years has billed it as the next generation’s talent show. Without giving too much away, imagine having your audition in-front of a crowd of 4,000 people. It’s almost like you’re performing your very first concert. It’s a very, very different process.

As you have evolved into a cultural icon, what do you think has aided you in spotting and developing talent?

Well, I think I have pretty broad tastes and I do listen to other people. You have to trust your gut instinct. There is no scientific formula that can help you. When somebody is good, like when Fantasia auditioned for American Idol, you know that you have found somebody great.

Generally, as was the case with American Idol, pop, country, rock and R&B dominate the types of music most often heard in competition. In what ways will you try to reach out to other genres, like jazz and hip-hop?

We’re trying to put people on the panel that have experience in different areas, or can certainly spot someone who has good talent. When you run a record label, you got to have knowledge on all genres of music. But I’ve done this a long time. And I think that you can normally spot the bad from the good in any genre of music. But I want to make the point: everyone is welcome. And if you’re good, you’re going to have a shot on this show.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Auditions for THE X FACTOR are set to begin on March 27th in Los Angeles at the L.A. Sports Arena. The search for the next global superstar will continue in Miami, FL, on Thursday, April 7th, at the Bank United Center; Newark, NJ, on Thursday, April 14th, at the Prudential Center; Seattle, WA, on Wednesday, April 20th, at Key Arena; Chicago, IL, on Wednesday, April 27th, at Sears Centre Arena; and Dallas, TX, on Thursday, May 26th, at the Dallas Convention Center. Wristbands must be obtained from the venue the day prior to auditions. Interested solo artists and vocal groups should sign up now for audition information at!]

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