EW dishes with the ''American Idol'' judges. Randy Jackson, Simon Cowell, and Paula Abdul stop bickering long enough to sound off on anger management, sympathy votes, and who they think will win
Paula Abdul, Simon Cowell, ...
Credit: American Idol: Joe Viles

Turn up the spotlights, flip on the psychedelic background video, and get your critical knives sharpened, because it’s time to place the ”American Idol” judges center stage for a gutbusting roundtable interview.

Simon, why so angry?

SIMON Well, it’s not so much angry, it’s passionate. I really do care that we get the right winner out of this. You know, they’re gonna sign to my record label [BMG], and I don’t want to be stuck with someone I don’t want to be stuck with.

PAULA [Sarcastically] Yeah, that never happens in the record business.

As a record executive you’ve had lots of hit records, including one by the Teletubbies, so let me ask you, do you see the next Tinky Winky in this bunch?

SIMON Looking at some of the clowns that are getting through in the top 10, I think Tinky Winky is very appropriate.

On that note, it’s pretty obvious what you guys are looking for, but the voting public has surprised you with a few of their selections. What do you think the viewers are looking for in a contestant?

RANDY Look at Ryan Starr. My daughter who’s almost 13, she and her friends love her. Why do they love her? Not because of her vocal talent or whatever reason we were looking for. They liked her because they thought she was cool.

PAULA Thank God the camera is not on us sometimes when we do hear the end result, because our jaws drop.

SIMON It’s all gone a bit mad as far as I’m concerned, and I’ve got a return flight booked, ready to leave if the wrong thing happens. I will be really, really upset if the right person doesn’t win this competition. You call a show ”American Idol.” It’s not called ”Boy With the Most Sympathetic Story Idol.” It’s about talent! And I do get frustrated.

So, you obviously think those were sympathy votes for Jim and A.J., but how far can sympathy votes carry a contestant?

PAULA I gotta believe with the final 10 that America is gonna be responsible and vote the talent in.

RANDY I hope so, but I’m a little worried, because if the public picks someone who’s really rank and bad to represent the best in America, then it’s all rubbish.

SIMON You know, I look at these guys, and I can understand to a point why they got voted through — they’ve got very interesting stories. One has got deaf parents and he signs to them and hugs everyone. The other one thanks God a million times throughout his performance and is gonna donate the money to the Third World or his mommy and burst into tears. Of course it’s a sympathy vote! Is it talent? No, I don’t think so.

Paula, do you ever find yourself maybe sugarcoating your critiques a bit to offset Simon’s and Randy’s often more brutal responses?

PAULA I don’t think I sugarcoat. This is just who I am, and I am the direct example of having gone through that. Those contestants know that I’ve been there before. They’re standing on a platform to hopefully be accepted, but more often than not rejected. And you have Simon to take care of the crushing, and I just feel that I’ll be honest, but I’ll handle it with dignity and grace, because I’m a girl. I’m the girliest girl of them all. But sitting in between these two, I’ve learned to be a dude, too.

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American Idol

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