Watching Fox’s reality hit ”American Idol,” you almost root for the would-be Britneys and Justins to blow their auditions, just to see them subjected to the withering jibes of talent judge and record exec Simon Cowell. During the show’s British incarnation last winter, his brutally blunt assessments of tone-deaf contestants earned him the nicknames ”Mr. Nasty” and ”Judge Dread.” (In the U.S., he has said, his dismissals led to threats from a couple of bat-wielding ”Idol” rejects, after which he hired bodyguards.) Cowell, 42, may be the most outspoken of the show’s three judges — the other two are Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson (the R&B producer, not the former Jackson Five singer) — but it’s hard to argue with his ear. The original show launched Will Young and Gareth Gates to the top of the British singles chart; before that, he helped make overseas hits out of the boy bands Five and Westlife. Success comes with a price, however, which includes listening to hundreds of ”Idol” hopefuls, not to mention our prying questions.
Were you bullied as a child?
I had a quiet, nice childhood. But in the music business, over the last 25 years, I’ve faced a lot of rejection. So I have little patience for someone who doesn’t have a lot of talent and wants to make it big all in one go.
What’s the harshest criticism anyone ever gave you?
People said, ”You will never make any money in the music industry.” Or, ”You have no talent.” Also, when you’re putting out a record, failing to make the top 100 is a kind of rejection. It’s painful.
What’s your favorite Paula Abdul song?
After ”Straight Up” and ”Opposites Attract,” I can’t remember any more.
Do you have any career advice for her?
Learn from me.