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26 February 2024

Cowell courts groups, maybe Abdul for 'X Factor'

British music mogul Simon Cowell holds his honorary Bafta Award, during the British Academy Television Awards at the London Palladium in central London. (AP)


Simon Cowell wants his new Fox talent series "The X Factor" to include controversy, vocal groups and, maybe, Paula Abdul on the judging panel.

"We've spoken to her, she knows I'm a big fan," Cowell said of his former fellow "American Idol" judge. "I've always said at some point we are going to be working together."

But, he added, "I have to take everyone's opinions into account," including the show's other producers and the network.

A decision about who will join Cowell on the four-member panel has yet to be made and won't be announced for another month or so, he said during an interview and teleconference about "The X Factor."

The show debuts this fall. Cowell exited Fox's "American Idol" last season in part to focus on the new series, which has been a successful format in several countries since its debut in Britain in 2004. Abdul quit "Idol" in 2009 over a salary dispute.

The winner of the US version of "X Factor" will nab a $5 million recording contract with Syco, a joint venture between Cowell and Sony Music. Cowell said that's not a "dressed up" sum: It represents $1 million a year payment for five years, separate from the costs of recording and promotion.

Cowell, known for his sharp-tongued critiques, unsurprisingly said he favors shows on which "anything can happen."

"I rip up the rule that everybody pretends to be friends and they're all going to be pen pals for the rest of their lives, which is complete and utter nonsense," he said. "I like people who are ambitious, and with that comes controversy."

One unwelcome flap last season on the U.K. version of "X Factor" involved the revelation that the pitch-correcting software Auto-Tune was used on at least one contestant's taped audition. Cowell said Monday it was the work of sound technicians and done without his knowledge.

"Once we found out what was going on it was stopped immediately. ... The most important part was once the show went live and (viewers) could see that everyone was singing live and it was a proper, fair competition."

The "X Factor" contest is open to those 12 and older, including groups. Cowell is eager to find breakout talent such as the Black Eyed Peas or Destiny's Child.

"I'm genuinely staggered this hasn't happened. All the signs are out there, from `Glee' to `High School Musical,'" he said, advising "any group of guys, girls, family group members, get it together now. There's a massive, massive opportunity here because you don't have a lot of competition."

The hefty top prize puts pressure on Cowell as well as the winner.

"If they don't sell a single record they still get to keep the money," he said. "It is pressure, because if the wrong person wins, I'm in trouble. ... We've got to find somebody fantastic to get the money back" through record sales.

To do that, he needs to find a talented performer who has a sound work ethic, which he said is something he wants to "instill" in the competition.

"The big, big stars are the people prepared to work at it. You look at somebody like Beyonce: She is the best example of somebody who works it every hour of the day," he said.

Cowell, as "American Idol" viewers know, doesn't lack for confidence: "I believe I can find a star," he said.

He has seen only a few minutes of this season's "American Idol" and its reconstituted panel with Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson, he said. But he's been reassured by its ratings stability that viewers still have an appetite for talent shows - a good sign for "X Factor."

Fox said Monday that auditions for contestants begin March 27 in Los Angeles, with other sessions following in the Chicago, Dallas, Miami, Seattle and New York areas.