The season finale of “American Idol” marked Simon Cowell ‘s final moments at the judges’ table.
While the show has produced a host of Grammy winners, one Oscar winner, and given the world a host of quirky former contenders (William Hung, anyone?), it was British judge Simon who really is the show’s breakout star.
In the decade he’s spent working on the reality program, a spin off of the U.K. show “Pop Idol,” the flat-topped music mogul, fond of V-neck sweaters and tight-fitting tees, a man with an almost complete lack of filter, has transformed reality TV, making having a Mr. Mean on every judging panel a necessity.
His repertoire of critiques have included the inevitable, “I’m sorry, but…,” “That was terrible” and “You should sue your singing teacher,” to calling people “karaoke,” “cabaret,” a “lounge singer” and another favorite performance critique adjective — “ghastly.”
But beyond his slams of contestants, he’s sparred with his fellow judges, exchanged a number of gay innuendos with show host Ryan Seacrest and also shared warm moments with them all.
But what were his most memorable? Access Hollywood counts them down, both nasty and nice.
10. The “Bush Baby”
The “American Idol” judging round is where Simon Cowell is in his element. He’s not above a compliment (although they are rare), but he’s at his most nasty when he’s dishing out criticism. All walks of life – sane, crazy and everything in between – know that Simon Cowell is an equal opportunity offender and he proved this when he slammed wide-eyed contestant Kenneth Briggs who came to tryout in Seattle during Season 6.
After a few bars of the sprightly young man’s audition, Simon piped up, telling Kenneth he looked like, “one of those creatures that live in the jungle with massive eyes, what are they called? Bush baby.”
“You’re sick,” an offended Paula screamed.
But the ever-gracious Kenneth handled it with poise.
“No, Randy, it’s Ok. Paula it’s OK. Simon you’re gonna say what you’re gonna say, but you know what, that’s your opinion. You’re entitled to it,” he said.
9. Mr. Fitness
For nine seasons, Simon has been the coolest judge, rarely raising an eyebrow, and almost never getting out of his chair. But, the British judge actually broke a sweat during Season 2.
After a performance by military man Josh Gracin, Simon leapt up from his comfy judge’s seat, bounded on to the stage, dropped and gave “Idol” viewers 10. All in some very high-waisted pants.
8. “Don’t Call Me Sweetheart”
Simon and Ryan have long exchanged banter, with each man making references to each other’s sexuality, but during Season 6, things reached a fever pitch.
Following Chris Sligh’s performance, Simon asked fellow judge Randy Jackson a question, one Ryan answered.
“You do the links, sweetheart. I’ll do the judging,” Simon said.
“Don’t call me sweetheart,” Ryan protested as producers cued music to lead to a commercial, possibly to stave off an on-air spat. “We don’t have that kind of relationship. I don’t want that kind of relationship…”
“You’ve made this very uncomfortable Ryan, now,” Simon said.
7. Hug It Out
When Renaldo LaPuz, from Reno, Nev., went before the judges during “Idol’s” Season 8, his audition was like no audition before.
Paula, Randy and Ryan joined the 44-year-old performer, who bore Simon’s name on his dynamic white feather hat, as he sang an original song, “We’re Brothers Forever.”
While Simon remained seated for the performance, Mr. Nasty was nothing but nice when it came to letting the man down. In fact, he was actually rather kind. Not only did he tell Renaldo, “You are very entertaining… I actually like you,” but he actually embraced him with a real hug, reducing Renaldo to tears.
6. “Do We Have A Bigger Stage?”
Mandisa Hundley gave a stirring rendition of Alicia Keys’ “Fallin'” during Season 5’s auditions round, one that even blew Simon away. But Simon couldn’t stop himself from commenting on her weight after the plus-sized beauty left the room — and after she told the cameras she was pleased the judges didn’t make fun of their weight.
“Do we have a bigger stage this year?” he said to camera, after she walked out with a golden ticket.
“She’s like Frenchie,” Paula chimed in, referring to another former plus-size, uber-talented, contender.
“Forget Frenchie, she’s like France,” Simon said in a clip
Mandisa has since slimmed down, but did admit that actually seeing Simon’s comments when they hit the airwaves was her “worst fear come true.”
5. “Come Out” Of The Closet
Season 6’s Simon-Ryan exchanges continued to get heated as things moved closer to the finale. During one episode, where Top 10 finalist Melinda Doolittle performed a number in a tight fitting suit, with killer, but hard to walk in heels, the sexuality banter came up once again.
“Simon, any advice on the high heels?” Ryan asked, referring to Melinda’s sexy new look – a comment, which clearly baited the British judge.
“You should know Ryan,” Simon said smugly as Randy raised his hands in mock shock.
“Stay out of my closet!” Ryan retorted.
“Come out,” Simon quickly replied.
4. And Then There Were 13
Anoop Desai thought it was over. The Chapel Hill, North Carolina, singer on “Idol’s” Season 8, thought he was headed home, having missed out on the Top 12, by landing just one spot away. But before the credits could roll on the episode, Simon stunned the audience by announcing in an expression-less deadpan, “We decided recently, we’re going to make this a Top 13.”
You could almost hear the spontaneous screams of glee from around the country.
3. The Hardest Word To Say
A softer side of Simon emerged during Season 5. After slamming most of the singers in the Top 6 (and a flood of calls to FOX) one week, Simon decided to reveal his soft underbelly, even if it was too late to affect any voting. “I think I was unfair to one person last night… and that person is Katharine [McPhee],” he said, referring to the brunette beauty’s cover of “I Have Nothing” by Whitney Houston, which he dubbed “quite cabaret,” the night before.
The audience could hardly believe their ears, and neither could the contestants whose shocked faces said it all.
2. No Love For The Soul Patrol
To this day, there is nobody Simon singles out more in the “Idol” alumni ranks to slam than Season 5 winner Taylor Hicks. And it all started in 2006, when Taylor’s audition was first broadcast.
“This is a guy who should be singing backgrounds, not in the spotlight,” Simon said after Taylor’s audition, which had Paula and Randy raving.
Taylor — aka “Grey Charles” — went on to Hollywood Week and the Top 10. While Simon continued to slam him for most of the season, the Soul Patrol had already mobilized and voted en masse, pushing their man to the finals, where he beat out Katharine McPhee.
And a moment where Simon realized he was wrong about Taylor
1. The Kiss
Simon and Paula have exchanged a lot of words over the years, but in Season 2, they filmed a skit for the show, showing the world their true chemistry and a whole lot more. From the sexy glances across a candle lit dinner table, to their big sloppy kiss, there has been no Simon moment “Idol” fans recall more.