Simon Cowell Chats about X Factor and his son Eric's influence.
The X Factor returns to our screens this coming weekend! Simon Cowell, Sharon Osbourne, Nicole Scherzinger and Louis Walsh return as your judges. Dermot O'Leary as your host.
This series has held auditions across the UK, taking place in Liverpool, Edinburgh, London and Manchester, and in a first for the show, Thorpe Park, where even the judges experienced a ride or two of their own.
Once again hopefuls are tackling two audition rounds, starting with the intimate closed rooms, in which they find themselves eyeball-to-eyeball in front of the judges.
Should they impress and secure three or more ‘yeses’, they're given the chance to progress to bootcamp to see if they have what it takes for international stardom. This series will also see the return of the Six Chair Challenge culminating in the live shows which will air later this year on the channel.
Simon chats about this years show and his son Eric:
It’s the 14th year of X Factor, are you excited?
14 years? Wow, that’s gone quick! I’m excited. I always think that if you do these shows and find some decent people then it’s a fun show. It feels different this year.
You’re shaking things up again this year in terms of the format of the show, what’s going on? When you’ve done it for 14 years you can’t keep making the same show every year. I think you have to realise what the contestants are in it for, why do so many people enter? I think if you just make the same show each year it becomes boring and predictable. So you try and make changes for the better, not everything works but some ideas we’ve got for the live shows are going to be good.
There are less live shows, which has come as a surprise to many and some have said that it’s a reaction to ratings. What was the thinking behind that decision?
I just think it’s the way things are in all these shows at the moment. The early and middle rounds rate well. So, the idea is to do more of the middle shows and less of the live shows. We’ll see if it works or not. I think there might be a middle ground
There seems to be a lot of contestants who have never auditioned for The X Factor before, what does that say about the show? We didn’t want the same people coming back again. Now, there are a few people who have been on the show before. But when you’ve just got the same people coming back year after year, it’s boring for us; it’s boring for the audience. I noticed that this year people are flying in from all over the world to be on the show, they trust the show, and if they trust the show you have to respect them. You’ve got to do what you would do in the real world rather than too many themes, too many gimmicks - let it be about them. There is a difference this year, I think our critique has been better, I think they have listened to us more. You expect certain people to do well and then they crumble under the pressure and some people just thrive on it. There was a 16 year old girl during six chair and she was put under so much pressure but I saw this fire in her that just emerged.
You’ve really been pushing for original songs from the contestants, why? When they are good song writers you have to encourage that, 100%, otherwise it’s just karaoke.
I have to be careful what I say because I have learnt through the years that whatever you do, other people copy you. You hope that whatever we do other people don’t copy; we try not to copy what other people are doing. If we’re doing original material then you’re going to see it turn up on other shows. It’s one of those things.
You have seen someone already that you’ve said you would have signed on the spot outside of the show, what can you tease about this contestant? I saw a couple of people in Edinburgh who, outside of the show, I would have signed. I have to be careful because I jinx it! Whenever I say someone’s amazing, I set myself up for a fall or them up for a fall. The truth is, I don't think, at this stage, that there’s anything such as a perfect audition, I think you see potential. They can make bad song choices, but then you remember why they entered the show in the first place, for whatever reason they haven’t made the right decisions in their career and you hope when they come on the show that they make better decisions.
What can you reveal about the singing female monk? It sounded better than it was. For about two minutes it was interesting but then suddenly I realised that if I happened to have watched this on another show, I would have watched for about ten seconds.
You said a butterfly flew into the room when she was singing?! You get in this bubble when you are on these shows, you’re immersed in this surreal world, they start singing, you start fantasising about certain things, I saw butterflies. When I watched it back a month later and I was like, ‘What was I thinking?’. You go a bit doolally!
What was it like having Alesha Dixon on the panel for a few days? She was amazing. She was going to be on the show in the first place before BGT. She was brilliant; I have to tell you, seamless. I would hire her on my record label, she’s that good.
So she gave Nicole a run for her money?
Yeah, that’s a good thing. The great thing about Nicole is you throw out the bait and she takes it every time! Nicole’s been good this year. She came over to my house in LA when we were talking about her coming back and I said apart from being great on TV, what she did with James Arthur was amazing. So, as crazy as she is, when she’s on it and likes someone, she’s brilliant.
How about Sharon and Louis?
It’s the same thing. We had a conversation before we did the show which was to remind everyone why we hired them in the first place. I worked with Louis first when he was managing Westlife and he is an amazing manager when he believes in someone. Sharon the same thing, she’s got great instincts. When she’s just being what she is in the real world, I mean look at Ozzy and how she’s maintained his career, her attention to detail is incredible. I said to everybody, if we go back on the show this year and remember what we do in the real world and do it on the show, then it’s going to be a much better show. They listened and I’ve seen the difference.
Is there a gap in the market right now?
There’s always a gap in the market when you’re good. It’s why this show’s called The X Factor, you can’t define what it is, it’s not just a great voice and personality. I think Olly Murs is probably a good example. He came in and knew he wasn’t the best singer or dancer, but he had that ability to connect with the audience when he was on the show. You look at his career afterwards, that’s what the show is about. I don’t think you can sit down before the show and say there’s a gap in the market for X, Y or Z. They create, or fill, the gap themselves.
Does weight, appearance and age matter when launching a new artist? Less so now. If anything, I think it can be a virtue. I pride myself on the show, where we can, that we don’t have any rules, no age limits. I don’t believe in that. More and more now in the charts you’re seeing people have huge amounts of success where years ago, if you had to tick certain things off a list, you wouldn’t pick them. It’s because they are real, genuine and talented. They are working in the real world. This show has to be the same thing otherwise you’re just going to look an idiot.
What is the character trait in an artist that you hate the most? Being a puppet. I find that the most frustrating and boring. If they can’t stand up for themselves, know the difference between a good song and a bad song, or if they allow anything to happen around them - it’s frustrating because no decent artist would allow that to happen. I like people who stand up for themselves.
This year we’ve seen what you did with the Grenfell charity single and also Ariana Grande’s One Love Manchester concert, how does that make you feel about the industry you’re in?
It shows that music has that ability to connect. There are a lot of artists, unfortunately, in the world today who are so up themselves that they are not aware of what’s happening around them in the real world. I think with Ariana and the people who turned up to do our single, they all turned up because they care. We got letters from families involved in the fire and what they said was that it had helped them a lot. I think there’s a lot of decency. At the same time, there are a lot of monsters. I mean, seriously! When you make a record like that, it’s like, ‘Wow, this is a wake-up call’.
How does music influence your mood?
That’s a good question. I was only thinking today that there are times when it can be really irritating but then there are times when you hear a song and it’s the best feeling in the world. There was one girl during six chair who sang this dreadful version of Wannabe. If it was me I would have stopped it after 20 seconds, I literally had to put my fingers in my ears, it was that bad. Then other people came out and did an amazing song, they’re connected with it, they chose it for a reason and that’s the best feeling in the world.
When you close your door at home and you’re just Simon, not a celebrity in the public eye, do you dance? No! I’ve always dreaded being the dad at the wedding! Now I have a son I will never, ever put Eric in that position. He actually makes me laugh because he’s a terrible dancer. He loves dancing and makes me laugh because he has a dance if he wants M&M’s or if he’s watching the film Trolls, he goes crazy. He cracks me up. I tell him he’s the worst dancer and he goes, ‘I know!’ and just carries on dancing.
So not even a little dance when you’re on your own in your office or brushing your teeth? No! I don’t think guys do that! That would be the worst, I can’t see myself doing it. Have you seen Louis try to dance? He has no sense of rhythm whatsoever! None!
This is the 14th year of the show, can X Factor make it to 20? If you’d asked me years ago how many more years I could do, I would have said if we can get to five more years then we’ve done well. Then you get to five years and it becomes ten. What I have noticed over the last two years, which is a good sign, is that I’m seeing younger and younger kids turn up to the show. That’s always the fear, that, like a lot of music shows, you don’t stay relevant. That’s why outside of the show, what I do with my label, is still important because I couldn’t sit on this panel if my label wasn’t having success outside of the show. I just couldn’t do it. So as long as you’re having hits, and in the label we’re finding artists, there’s no feeling like it. So, that’s a long winded way of saying yes, I do think it’ll last a little bit longer than I thought.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Number one, you have to say happy. Number two, relevant. If you achieve those two things and success then you’re in a good place because this business is tough. If I ever lost my taste, or the ability to spot an artist or a hit record, then I would stop really quickly. I wouldn’t try and hang on. But because I am still, almost obsessed with the idea of signing new talent, finding new talent, and I still enjoy it as much as I used to, then I hope to still be doing this in five or ten year’s time. Once you cross that middle line, if you're still successful, you can use your experience to hopefully find the next person who is going to do my job. That is as fulfilling as finding an artist. You know, someone who starts off as an intern and ten years later is running your record label - that’s as valuable as finding an artist. I’d get a real kick out of that.
You’ve got a mini me in the making thanks to Eric, who showed his musical knowledge while sitting in the wings watching auditions... At the moment he seems to know more about music than I do! If I say to him, ‘Can you tell me the lyrics to this record’ he will literally repeat the entire song. So when he watches all these movies, like Trolls, which has an amazing soundtrack by Justin Timberlake, he knows every word, who the original artist is, and if I tell him the song he just repeats it. I think he’ll probably end up doing what I am doing. He’s quite shy, when I am filming and I put the microphone in front of him, I’ve got to really push him to say something. But it’s amazing how quickly he’s got what I do. I used to ask him what daddy does for work and he’d say ‘You press buttons’, that’s BGT. Then Louis said to him today, ‘What does daddy do’ and he just said, ‘He talks into a microphone!’. That’s what he thinks I do! He really has got good taste in music though and is very interesting to watch because when we get new records come in from our artists, I watch him when we play the record. If he’s interested then it’s a really good chance it’ll be a hit. He’s got fantastic instincts.
With The X Factor competition hotting up, how much do you want to win? When you really care and are passionate about an artist, like the year I had One Direction, that’s what matters. When we got to the finals I thought we would at least come second, I remember that night they said, ‘The act who’s third is One Direction’, and it was like being punched in my stomach. I felt that bad for them, even though I thought outside of the show they would do well. You get that connection, so it’s not like you’ve won, it’s someone you care about. If I’m connected with an artist then I’ll care. If I’m not then I actually don’t care if I win or not.
How do you rate the talent this year?
It feels different and I tell you why. Sometimes you have to check yourself and go, ‘Why did we make the show in the first place?’. We made the show to be fun to watch but also to do something where people who couldn’t get a record deal could get what they needed to give themselves a head start. It worked. I think this year we’ve put the emphasis back on them, it’s all about them, their personalities, their originality, let them be the stars of the show.
The X Factor returns to ITV on Saturday 2nd September and Sunday 3rd September at 8pm.