''American Idol'''s harshest critic reflects on his global success

Some performers turn into megastars for their acting, singing, or dancing. Simon Cowell became one for his similes. As the most obnoxious, biting, and — let’s face it — correct judge on the talent-show phenomenon American Idol, the British music exec has spent the last seven years dishing out analogies (”It sounded like cats jumping off the Empire State Building”) that are hilariously dead-on. And doing that — in front of tens of millions of Idol addicts — not only allowed him to sign future pop heavyweights (Kelly Clarkson, Chris Daughtry) but also helped make him a mogul with the clout to launch the U.K. smashes The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent (which catapulted Leona Lewis and Susan Boyle, respectively). But at heart, he’ll always be our favorite unscripted truth-teller.

How did you feel at the beginning of this decade?

Simon Cowell Bored.

When you signed on to Pop Idol and American Idol, did you want to become famous yourself?

SC The only reason I appeared on Pop Idol was because my label was going to sign the winner, and I wanted to make sure that I was part of the process. I didn’t trust anyone else to do it. It was as simple as that.

For several years you were flying back and forth from London to L.A. to do all your television shows. That couldn’t have been fun.

SC About a year and a half ago I was so jet-lagged that when I woke up, I genuinely didn’t know what show I was about to do. But you’ve got to be aware of your audience. They don’t care how many miles you’ve traveled. It’s your responsibility to make the show, every single time, better than the previous week.

What’s the best decision you made this decade?

SC To put another music show on — when I did X Factor. I didn’t want to be tied down to one format. I was told by everyone that it couldn’t work. Once that became a hit, I had the confidence to launch a third show, which was Got Talent.

And the worst decision?

SC There’s not one particular thing I regret.

How about that Scary Movie 3 cameo?

SC Actually, that’s probably it! I’ll never forget going to that premiere and dying in my seat when the movie came on. I’ve never felt so embarrassed in my life. Lesson learned: Don’t believe that you’re good at other things. I might be okay as a judge, but I’m a lousy actor.

You ended the decade with a lavish 50th-birthday party. How did it compare with your 40th?

SC I’ll give you an example: At 40, I didn’t have a party, and at 50, I wanted to.

Episode Recaps

American Idol

Ryan Seacrest hosts as Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan guide aspiring singers on their way to superstardom.

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