What he said helped turn a singing contest into a pop-culture force that dominates TV, even in its ninth season and with sliding viewership — and whose future is clouded by his departure after Wednesday’s season finale.
Cowell was so colourful and biting in his criticism that it felt like a bracing slap in the face of the performers, viewers and social convention. Brits such as Cowell may be accustomed to candor but Americans tend to err on the side of cheery positive reinforcement (exhibit A: most utterances by Paula Abdul) and fluff (Randy Jackson’s repetitive “Yo!”).
Most importantly, the music industry veteran was authoritative and mostly on target. With the intimidating hauteur of a snobbish wine steward, he steered viewers to the proper assessment of contestants.
“You sucked the soul out of that song,” Cowell told Andrew Garcia after his performance this season of Marvin Gaye’s Heard It Through the Grapevine.
“His sarcastic — but knowledgeable — put-downs lifted the show from the traditional star search mold to something genuinely new on television, a talent show where not only was the competition fierce and the standards high but the judges were part of the entertainment,” Brooks said in an e-mail.
His act wasn’t all scowling Cowell. Handsome, with a penchant for snug T-shirts, he had a disarming wink for those he favoured. And if he misjudged a gifted singer, it wasn’t for long. Finalist Crystal Bowersox won an admission from Cowell that he had “completely underestimated” her as a serious artist.
“Simon’s a rare bird. He’s more honest than most people can handle, and I love that about him,” Bowersox (24), said Monday.
The outgoing judge received more verbal hugs on Tuesday’s broadcast.
“We really are going to miss you. You are a dear friend and we wouldn’t be here without you,” said host Ryan Seacrest, who had a testy on-air relationship with Cowell this season.
Bowersox thanked Cowell for his help and wished him well before he weighed in on her performance of Up on the Mountain, the last of the evening.
“Since this is going to be the final critique I’m ever gonna give, I would just like to say that was outstanding,” Cowell said, ending his Idol judging run on a sweet note.
Cowell, in turn, has been richly rewarded, making a reported US$36 million a year for his work on Idol and founding his own TV empire.
After serving as a judge on British media mogul Simon Fuller’s Pop Idol and helping sell the concept to Fox, Cowell went on to create a popular UK talent show, The X Factor, a version of which is coming to Fox with Cowell as judge and executive producer. He’s also a producer for NBC’s America’s’s Got Talent.
On the music side, he’s scored hits with singers including Leona Lewis, one of his UK talent show finds. –– AP.