Simon Cowell on Paula and who's going to the finals. American Idol's lightning rod holds court on a Carrie-Bo showdown, ''Wal-Mart'' taste, and why Fantasia's CD idled
Simon Cowell
Credit: Simon Cowell Photograph by Justin Stephens

It’s an uncharacteristically gray May day in Los Angeles, and a foreboding chill has settled over the city — and over American Idol judge Simon Cowell’s opulent rented mansion. In a few hours, polarizing Idol contestant Scott Savol will be booted, and ABC’s Primetime Live special ”Fallen Idol” will accuse Paula Abdul of seducing and coaching former finalist Corey Clark. (Abdul essentially denied the allegations in a statement: ”I have been taught…never to dignify salacious or false accusations.”)

Cowell, relaxing poolside in jeans and a black Armani T-shirt (he owns 30 of them), and smoking Kools, doesn’t seem too concerned about either impending storm. His agent and publicist, on the other hand, seem to be; they insist on sitting in during the Paula portion of the interview. There, there, celebrity handlers. We’ve also got much less sensitive — but equally pressing — topics to cover: Why did viewers tire of Constantine’s perma-pout? Why is Carrie the Wal-Mart Idol? And, of course, who’s going to inherit Fantasia’s crown?

Let’s just get right to it: What do you make of Corey Clark’s allegations that Paula helped him make it to the top 12?
I have my own suspicions. I wouldn’t believe too much of what this guy has to say. He’s after publicity for himself. He’s preying on the weak. It’s as simple as that.

Could the possibility that she helped a contestant undermine everything that American Idol stands for?
No. It’s a show which is run by the public. In my opinion it’s the only fair competition on TV at the moment. Regardless of what I say or what Paula says or what Randy says, the viewers decide who’s going to stay or go.

So you never saw Paula do anything inappropriate?
I can only say it as I saw it. Paula was much more keen to give contestants comfort afterward. You can’t condemn somebody for wanting to soothe them and make them feel better. She felt very bad if they got booted off or slighted by one of us, so she would be the first one to give them a hug or whatever afterward, and that’s all I ever saw.

How do you maintain boundaries with the contestants?
You keep distance. Simple as that. Personally, I find it uncomfortable being with them while the show is running. We used to have our makeup done in the same room as the contestants and it was uncomfortable knowing they’d be coming in afterward and you had to be all pally with them when you’re going to criticize them later. I don’t want any communication with them.

So you have never spent any time with them outside of the show?
No. No. No. I don’t think they particularly want to see me either.

Regardless of whatever happened in season 2, this season Paula’s compliments and standing ovations have been out of control.
[Laughing] I asked her after one of the performances last night, ”How on Earth did you find anything nice to say about that?” In her defense, the audience is such a partisan crowd. It’s quite awkward. Your brain is going, ”This is terrible!” But then you’re watching around you and everyone is going ballistic and you’re thinking, ”Have I got it completely wrong? Are they really good?”

But Anthony Fedorov? He’s never that good.
There’s 30 million people watching and you’ve got kids and mothers and grandmothers and they’ll always vote for someone like him. You can’t be sulky about it. I’ve seen Randy and Paula get sulky about it. It’s all part of the great things that go wrong on American Idol which make it an interesting show. I love the unfairness and the unpredictability. God forbid it ever becomes predictable.

Who’s going to the finals?
Carrie and Bo.

Who will win?