American Idol star judge Simon Cowell spoke to the press via conference call on Thursday afternoon, and he answered multiple reporters’ burning questions regarding Howard Stern and other possible replacement judges, the recent scandal regarding disqualified contestant Chris Golightly, rumored tension between him and Ellen DeGeneres, potential Idol mentors, this season’s most promising new contestants, General Larry Platt…and even a question from Reality Rocks about a pipedream of Oasis curmudgeon Noel Gallagher possibly becoming the new Idol judge.
Here’s what Simon said…
A lot of people are speculating about who will replace you on Idol next season. How much music business experience is really required for theÂ job?
I think it’s really important. It’s interesting that when [Idol] first started, we had a record producer, an artist, and an A&R man–we covered pretty much everything you need to do. I would say somebody who’s had managerial experience is always very helpful, but you know, in simplistic terms, it’s like if you judge the ice-skating at the Olympics: If you’re going to give a score, you genuinely need to know what you’re talking about. And I think over the years, judges have been replaced by personalities. That in the long term will create problems, because you’ve got to be able to spot a star, and to whoever replaces me, my advice has always been: Find somebody who actually knows what they’re talking about and has actually experienced success in the music business. [Howard Stern] doesn’t seem to fit any of this criteria! He’s played records, maybe that’s a good qualification, that he’s a DJ. [laughs] But he obviously wants the job. Good luck to him.
Besides Howard Stern,Â Perez Hilton saysÂ he wants to beÂ in the running for your job. Also, producer Steve Lillywhite just made a video plea to be your replacement. Who of those people would you pick, and what qualifications do you think someone who’d replace you would need to have?
I know Howard’s name has been in there for a while, but I’m fairly certain that there hasn’t been an approach at any time for Howard to do the show. Perez, he’d be funny. You know, he’s got good taste in music, he’s a personality. That could work…Now, Steve Lillywhite, the record producer? Is he handsome? You’ve got to be good-looking. [laughs] Secondly, I think you’ve just gotÂ to know what you’re talking about. More and more now I’m starting to realize with these shows, that we have to put people on the shows that actually know what they’re talking about. Rather than guessing, they’ve really got to have experience, so that you can not just criticize, but you can actually offer constructive advice as well.
If you could have your pick, who would you hire to replace you?
Well, you’re never going to pick anyone as good as you, are you? [laughs] So I think that’s why nobody really asks me that question. I think the important thing is, and you see this on a lot of shows, you see people put in a role to play a certain role–which has become quite tiresome, when people always describe that person as the “mean judge” or whatever it is. You’ve just got to find someone who can actually make a difference to a contestant, who’s not afraid to speak their mind, who’s prepared to be honest and occasionally blunt–but not to be gratuitously rude. I’m really getting tired of all of that. But there’ll be a lot of people who’ll want the job. I think ironically it’s going to help next season, because there will be a lot of interest about who replaces me…Howard Stern talking about it on his show, I think that’s brilliant!
How do you feel about Noel Gallagher of Oasis replacing you? [Editor’s note: This is the Reality Rocks question. Let the flailing commence!]
Noel? Do you think people would understand him? [laughs] Actually, I know Noel quite well, and I like him. He’s very funny, and he is a brilliant songwriter. It’s a possibility. Look, the good news is there is no shortage of candidates. The hardest thing about finding a replacement is when you hear people’s names like Madonna, it will never happen, because you’ve got to give a massive time commitment.
How does it feel to have everyone saying you’re “irreplaceable”?
[laughs] It’s very, very flattering, and I really do appreciate it. But like I’ve said before, the show goes on. I’m going to feel sad when it all ends. But look, it’s much nicer to be popular than unpopular, so I do appreciate it.
Are your comments about how a judge needs to have music business experience directed at Ellen DeGeneres?
[laughs] Funny, I was thinking people might misinterpret what I’m saying. No. I’ll tell you why I think Ellen was a good choice: She actually is very responsible for people she has performing on her own show. I know that for a fact, because I’ve dealt with her as a record label. And she loves music, and she’s been an artist. So no, that wasn’t meant to diss her credentials. It was specifically talking about my replacement, because my role on the show was somebody who has run a successful record label.
Can you address the stories about you and Ellen not getting along?
I wouldn’t say that we didn’t get on well. I don’t know Ellen that well. It was a difficult thing for her because she started work on the Hollywood Week, which is quite a difficult show to do. There was one story I read that said I turned up an hour late or something, and that she wanted to film. The truth was I think I turned up 15 or 20 minutes late because I did a press conference earlier in the day, and they did start filming, but that wasn’t a particular problem. But no, there was not fallout. I was trying to guide her through the week, and that was about it, really.
What do you miss most about Paula Abdul?
Well, Paula’s my friend. Amazingly, even though we used to argue a lot, she was somebody I just got very close to over the years. We’d hang out together after the show, and she always made me laugh; I always thought she was funny. So it was just like not having your friend on the show anymore, so I do miss her.
What sort of role will you have on the show this season, on the live shows? Will you be as visible as always?
What I always do when I do these live shows is not go in there with any sort of preconceived idea of what it’s going to be like, or what people are going to be like. I try to be in the moment and do what I’ve always done in my career, which is to hopefully make the right decisions. And if that means disagreeing with people, I don’t have a problem with that; I never have. But you’re there to be honest, truthful, and hopefully give constructive advice. And most importantly, to say what you think people at home are thinking. I want to go out on a high. I’ve said this over and over again: It’s my last season, and I want to it to be successful. I’ll do everything I can to make that happen.
What mentors would you like to work with on your last Idol season?
That’s a good question. We’ve had some pretty good people, haven’tÂ we? Um, I think we should have Lady Gaga. She is the most relevant pop artist in the world at the moment, so I think she should be number one. And I’ve met her and she’s very smart. I like her.
What can you say about Chris Golightly, and what do you remember about him from his time on the show?
I remember Chris’s audition very well, because [judge] Kara [DioGuardi] was completely and utterly besotted with him. I wasn’t quite so keen on him, and then the second time we saw him in Hollywood Week, he wasn’t as strong as he was on his first audition. I really honestly don’t have a clue why he’s been removed from the competition; I’m guessing it’s some technical reason. But it’s a shame for him. He needed this opportunity.
Could Chris Golightly audition for X Factor?
Well, I’ve got to find out what the reason is, first of all! [laughs] If it was something like a technical reason, then yeah, of course he could.
Is it important that a female win this season?
Ha! Depends what she’s like! I kind of know where you’re going; we’ve had a few years now of guys winning the show. I would say there is definitely a better chance of a girl winning the show this year–certainly better than last year. You want somebody who represents what is going on at the moment. I’d love to find a Taylor Swift–somebody who’s relevant, rather than just a contest winner.
Not all of this season’s contestants have “Hollywood looks.” How do you balance what’s good for the show with what’s good for the music industry?
That’s a good question. The reason we put a variety of people through is, I think, primarily on talent and interest in them as people. I think if you just pick everybody because they look the way you think they should look–that happened a few years ago. I remember every blond girl in the competition looked identical; I couldn’t tell one from the other. And I think it’s important that you can recognize talent, personalities. So I think it’s good that we have a mixed bag this year.
Do the sob stories have any impact on the judges?
Not really. Not on me. I’ve heard so many of them over the years. It’s about remembering people, and part of the problem when you do the show–from the auditions to the Hollywood round–is that most people, you can’t remember. If you can remember somebody, it’s a good place to start.
How often are you overruled by the other judges when choosing the top 24?
Well, this was a difficult one because it all happened so quickly. I think in hindsight it would have been much easier–but it couldn’t have happened this way–that we could have had maybe five or six days to think about it, and really review the performances. But we had a limited time, and decisions were made relatively quickly on the day. And then when you watch it back, you think, “You know what? I could have made different decisions here.” This happens on the shows I do in other countries. There’s always a moment where you look at something and think, “I’ve made a [bad] decision,” but you’ve just got to live with that. And luckily, they can always re-audition the following year.
What do the contestants have to do to stay on the show this season?
I think you’ve got to be original. I remember David Cook: The reason he did so well, and he suddenly came into the front when he competed, was that he managed to find interesting versions of well-known songs, and did them in his style. I remember the first time he performed Lionel Richie’s song “Hello” and turned it into a rock song, or when he did the Chris Cornell version of “Billie Jean.” He was smart. And I would say the same thing to [other contestants]: Don’t always do the obvious. Find something which is more unique and interesting to you. And suck up to me–that always helps!
What’s your take on the whole “Pants On The Ground” phenomenon?
You know, it’s an interesting thing, because when [Larry Platt] came on the show, it’s one of the reasons why on X Factor we didn’t put an age cap on that show. Because I always found a lot of the older contestants really funny, interesting–whether it’s him or whether it’s someone like Susan Boyle. I’ve got to tell you: For him, I’m absolutely thrilled that all this has happened. He needed a break, and I’m glad it’s worked out well.