Simon Cowell talks about making changes to this year's judging panel on the X Factor and reveals other changes that have been made to the show. The X Factor can be seen Saturday and Sunday evenings at 8pm on ITV.
You’ve got a new judging line-up this year, how are you feeling about them?
I was nervous beforehand. Part of the fun on this show is changing the panel, and then part of the fear of doing this show is changing the panel! No matter how confident you are, there are always those moments a couple of days before filming where you go, ‘Was he the right choice? Was she the right choice?’ I wasn’t sure. Normally whenever we have anyone new in I’m on the phone to Louis within three hours to replace them. I’m sure he had his bags packed at the front door. The funny thing is within five minutes of starting on the first day I thought it was great. It just felt right, for the right reasons.
What was it in those first few moments that made you think you were on to a winner?
It didn’t feel like judges for hire. It really felt like they were interested in the show and more importantly, they were interested in the contestants. I have to credit Nick with this, he has a fantastic energy. People have always said to me that he’s like everyone’s best friend and I didn’t work it out until I met him. He’s like a really friendly dog, really friendly, he always wants to be stroked and be happy. There’s not a bad side to him or an ego, he just really likes people and that’s when I figured out what his role was on the panel. He plays records to make people feel good and I think he understands the audience. He wasn’t coming in all technical, he’s just a really good guy and now I’ve got to know him properly, he’s really funny.
He’s got a good relationship with Rita which will come out on the show...
Nick and Rita love each other. I mean, in another life I could see those two together! She adores him and he adores her, 100%. You never walk into work thinking Nick’s in a bad mood or he’s fed up, when you walk in he’s always upbeat and he’s not had much sleep during the auditions.
Why did you hire Rita?
It did make me laugh when I thought about getting Rita onto the show. We did have her first! She was a very diff erent girl back then, it was one of the first things she did and she was very shy, she was good, but not the Rita we have today. When I saw her on The Voice a couple of years later it was like, ‘How come they’ve got her? I wanted her’. I met her at the Brits and I asked her what happened, she said I didn’t ask her. I said, ‘I did, and to make it clear, I’m asking you again’. I never thought it would happen and then she came round to my house one night with her manager, and I got on so well with her. I said, ‘Do you want to do it?’ and she said, ‘I’m going to do it’. She never went back on her word. She belongs with The X Factor! She’s been a revelation. I was telling some friends the other day, she’s got an incredible heart, she’s funny, smart, interesting and really wants the contestants to do well.
Can she steal Cheryl’s crown as the people’s princess?
She’s a different kind of princess! She’s got a very different personality. Everyone thought these two were going to hate each other, that there would be a big catfight, but I genuinely never thought that. I know a lot of girls who know Rita and they all say the same thing, they adore her. She’s got what Nick’s got, she’s incredibly welcoming and after they had their first meeting Cheryl called me and said, ‘Oh my god, I think she’s really cool, I like her’. I had them all over to my house for dinner one night and it was just easy. She’s really good.
But you have always said you want catfights...
I used to! Honestly, I think people are bored of the catfights now. It’s not like they actually fight, they just don’t talk to each other! After a while that gets really boring and it does affect their ability to judge the show. I think with Cheryl and Rita they have helped each other and it feels like they have known each other a long time.
How is it working with Cheryl again?
I’ve got to be honest with you, Cheryl’s the happiest I have seen her in years. She’s a completely different person this year. I said to her the other night, ‘You’ve got your mojo back’. She’s really enjoying being on this show, it’s not like a job, she’s enjoying it and I think that’s got a lot to do with Rita.
Have you laughed more during the auditions this year?
I have enjoyed it, there’s a different energy this year. I can’t explain it. I have felt relaxed and I think getting out of those small rooms made a big difference; I don’t like those little auditions, they drive me nuts. The crowd have had an incredible energy this year, which has helped, plus we have just had different kinds of contestants this year to what we have had over the last three or four years.
The quality of the acts has been better than anything we’ve seen over the last few years...
I have felt that as well. I always say it’s rare to be surprised and I don’t think it’s going to happen. But again and again on this show, I’ve been like, ‘I genuinely wasn’t expecting that...’ The music that is coming out of Britain right now and doing so well around the world is, I think, inspiring people to come on this show because it’s worth giving it a go. They do feel different to last year’s contestants. I think Fleur East has had a bit of an effect actually, with the whole performance thing. We’ve had a lot more of that, we’ve had people bring on dancers.
This year is the first time you’ve allowed acts to bring on dancers and even their own graphics, why is that?
We basically said to ourselves that we shouldn’t apply any rules to the auditions. If they want dancers, this or that, dogs, cats - well, I don’t care about cats - but you can do what you want. A couple of auditions I have sat there and thought how I have never seen anything like it on this show. They have really put the effort in; I think it’s made the show better.
You’ve been quizzing the contestants about their musical influences, is that to find out whether they are serious about music or just want to be famous?
Yeah, when someone says to me that they live for music or eat music as someone said to me the other day, I was like, ‘How can you eat music?’ I’m always curious as to what has inspired them and how much interest they really have outside looking at a couple of clips on You Tube. I’ve found that the people who understood some of the great artists from the past, particularly soul singers like Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder, and then do well, it makes me trust them more.
Does it annoy you when people just want to use your show to be famous?
I don’t mind people coming on the show to be famous for the right reason. What does frustrate me is somebody who isn’t very good, doesn’t do much and hopes to walk onto another reality show the following week. I feel that they have taken someone else’s spot.
One contestant has left you fearing for the safety of Olly Murs, can you explain why?
He’s more than a lookalike and soundalike, he’s a complete stalker! I asked him if he has ever watched a movie called Single White Female, I asked Olly if he had seen the movie too because this guy has literally channelled Olly. He doesn’t just look and sound like him, he actually wants to be him. I had this vision in my head of Olly getting locked up in a room with tape around him one week while this guy takes his job. I think it might happen. If Olly goes missing, then turn up at this guy’s house and look in the garage or the garden!
Rita and Cheryl found it hilarious when a girl came on with a unique song about her boss...
That was very funny. The song was called ‘My boss is a d**khead’. I was thinking, ‘You are so going to lose your job’, but it did make me laugh! I tell you one audition I did love, it was the last audition of the day and by this point you’re tired and just want to go home. This girl came out, she was 27 and her songs were terrible. I said to her, and I meant it, that she was a bit too nice. She said, ‘Do you want me to show you nasty?’, and bang! This sweet little thing turned into an animal, it was brilliant. She did Tina Turner and crawled across the desk, it was like an x-rated movie, but it was hilarious.
It seems like a lot more of the women are flirting with you this year...
Yeah! It’s normally the mums, I don’t know why, probably because I am on TV. I was going to say maybe it’s because Louis has gone, but that’s not the reason!
A Welsh girl made you a cake and really tried to seduce you, but Rita didn’t like it did she?
Rita got really annoyed about it! She only made a cake and that was it, but I could see that side of Rita coming out, it’s like, ‘I wouldn’t want to mess with you!’. I couldn’t care less if women throw themselves at me, it’s all part of the fun, isn’t it? I don’t like people to be well behaved on these shows, if I’m being honest with you, I think it’s boring. So I always encourage bad behaviour.
Will there be changes to the live shows?
Yeah, you don’t want to make massive changes but whatever you can do to make the show more interesting for us, the contestants and people who watch it, you shouldn’t be afraid to change things. It can’t be for the sake of changing things though, you should only do it if you think things could be better. So we have some ideas, otherwise you just make the same show year after year, which is boring.
Cheryl says she wants you to mix up the categories, will you?
Cheryl is obsessed with these categories. Do you know why? She’s terrified she’s going to get stuck with one category and someone else is going to get a better one. She’s so competitive, which doesn’t work with me anymore by the way. What used to happen is someone great would come on and then the eyes, which are big anyway, suddenly turn into saucers and she looks at me like, ‘Simon, I really like them...’, but I’m like, ‘Yeah, but you’re not having them this time!’. She really is competitive, it’s why she’s so good on the show, not only does she want the contestant to win, she wants to win.
Are they all campaigning for the strongest category already?
Interestingly, there’s no weak category this year. I can see who the winner of each category could be. It could all change, we’ve only seen them for the first time, then the second time we see them they could be terrible. So we’ll see.
Will we be seeing Rita perform during the live shows?
Of course we will be seeing Rita perform, 100%! It’s interesting with Rita, I still don’t know that much about her. Even though she’s famous, there’s still a lot of people who don’t know her that well. So seeing her on the show as a judge and then as a performer is going to be amazing.
How have Caroline and Olly been getting on?
Olly is just a dream to be honest with you. Like Nick, he is one of the happiest people I have ever met in my life. He’s really enjoying it and I think he’s showing that side of him which people genuinely like. He’s sold a lot of records but when he’s standing on the side talking to the contestants, there’s no ego. Him and Caroline have a great chemistry. Look, it’s different. As I have said before, you have to make changes sometimes and see what happens. It brings a different energy to the show.
You are a mentor to the contestants as well as the judges, who has been your biggest mentor through your life?
That’s a good question, I’ve had good bosses and of course my parents. As you get older you either become, which I see with a lot of people, bitter, or you use your experience to hopefully help other people do well. I do love that part of my job. I was lucky enough to have people who gave me their time, taught me and I still learn something new every day.
What’s the best bit of advice you have ever been given?
When someone says yes, shut up! It’s amazing how quickly you can talk yourself out of a deal. If I say yes to someone and say I’ll give them a deal and they just leave, I will always sign them. Sometimes I’ll say, ‘We’ve got a deal’ and then they keep talking, and keep talking, that’s when I start to think, ‘I’m changing my mind’. Sometimes less is more.
What is your hope for this coming series?
Always the hope for the series is you want it to do well, people to talk about it, enjoy it and you want to do what it set out to do, which is to create a star. I think this year I also want it to feel more like a competition. Getting it into people’s heads that yes you could have a record deal if you come third or fourth, but actually it’s a badge of honour to say, ‘I won’. That tells me in the real world that they are people who are more likely to do well. I am going to explain that to the contestants, I want fighters!
Courtesy of itv