Sneak Peek: Has Simon Cowell Finally Cracked the Code to The X Factor's Success?
The X-Factor | Photo Credits: Fox
Simon Cowell sits on a balcony overlooking the pool at the Beverly Hilton hotel and lights another cigarette. It's a tumultuous time for the fiery Brit, whose baby-daddy drama is dominating tabloid headlines just a month before The X Factor is set to premiere its do-or-die third season in the United States. But Cowell has rarely appeared more at ease. "I think you're really going to like it more this year," he says of his singing competition.
After last season's addition of judge Britney Spears proved to be a multimillion-dollar dud and original panelist L.A. Reid jumped ship (Demi Lovato is the only holdover from Season 2), Cowell again restructured the panel, this time focusing on experience and chemistry. Enter Kelly Rowland, a former member of Destiny's Child who worked on the U.K. version of The X Factor in 2011, and Paulina Rubio, a Latina superstar whose previous gigs include coaching the Mexican edition of The Voice. Mario Lopez will take on full hosting duties, after sharing last season with Khloe Kardashian.
The format itself is also undergoing some tweaks. The contestant categories will revert nearer to what they were in Season 1 (Boys, Girls, Over 25s and Groups), the grand prize has been reduced from a $5 million recording contract to $1 million, and the show has refocused its goal of discovering major talent (such as Cowell's U.K. X Factor find One Direction). Here, Cowell and his team discuss the show's new direction.
TV Guide Magazine: Simon, this is your third panel of judges in as many years. Why do you think this group will work?
Cowell: I have had more fun making the show this year than I had the first two. The first year is always difficult, but the second year actually felt a bit dark. These shows should be a celebration — fun and funny. And I wanted these three girls because they are all fun and give me a hard time.
TV Guide Magazine: How did you decide on this almost all-female panel?
Lopez: I'd like to take credit for that! Simon and I were having a conversation and I said, "Picture this: Simon's Angels!" But after getting them together, it's more like Simon's Demons. [Laughs]
Rowland: We definitely add a lot of sass. I think we bounce really well off of each other and bring different things out of each other. And finally Simon gets to sing this year!
Cowell: I didn't really sing; I did an impersonation of somebody singing.
Rubio: And I break the ice sometimes if it's getting really serious. You just need to talk from your heart, be real to the people in front of you and give them good perspective on whether they're good or not. Don't forget that this is music — it's not the Nobel Peace Prize. It's the universal language, so keep having fun!
TV Guide Magazine: Demi, why did you want to return?
Lovato: I had so much fun last year and knew that if I went into it again, I would have a clearer idea and vision of what I was looking for. I feel like I've learned a lot, especially from these women, who are my sisters and so easy to work with. It's kind of ridiculous the bond that we all have.
TV Guide Magazine: Last season, American Idol put two strong female personalities together, and it caused friction that turned off many viewers. Did you take that into consideration?
Cowell: Of course I did. The last thing I wanted was a catfight amongst the girls. It would have been ridiculous. Contestants aren't interested in us arguing. Every one of these girls is focused, listening, really thinking about what these artists could be in the real world.