I had the pleasure of chatting with Simon Cowell for EW’s Best of the Decade issue, since we name him one of our 15 Entertainers of the Decade. We talked about several of his highlights and low points from the last ten years, including why he tried to get out of American Idol at the last minute and the worst decision he made since the dawn of the new millennium. Here are some excerpts from our conversation:
EW: Was Pop Idol the first TV show you were approached to be on?
SIMON COWELL: I was always getting offered TV work. Every week someone would turn up at my record label and ask if I would do a fly-on-the-wall documentary. And every single time I said no; I genuinely wasn’t interested.
Back in 2002 you told me that a few weeks before American Idol started, you panicked and called your lawyers to try to get you out of the show because you didn’t think Americans would accept a Brit telling them they can’t sing.
That’s exactly what happened. I didn’t realize how much time being on TV was going to take, and I’d always really enjoyed running my record label. And then the idea of doing two shows in one year, I remember thinking, I just really don’t want to do this. And then a friend of mine called me at the last minute and she said, “I think you’re making a mistake. I think you should give it a go. You’ll regret it if you don’t do it.” And that’s what persuaded me to do it. Then I turned up in America to start filming and I’d rented a house. And the first thing the real-estate agent told me was, “I don’t think your show’s going to do very well.” I said “Why?” [and he said]“Because the network has insisted on a month break clause in the deal.” Basically that they could get out of the lease agreement after a month—i.e., if the ratings bomb, we’re out of there. So I don’t think anybody genuinely thought the show was going to be a hit in America.
I also remember asking you years ago if you were going to return for Season 3 of Idol and you said “100 percent no.” Why has there always been so much drama over your contracts on this show?
Honestly, I am slightly dysfunctional. I never signed a long-term agreement. Part of the deal was that I would have a year’s contract without any options, so if I hated it, I could leave. We always had kind of an on/off contract so I would never be tied to it. The truth was, and this has happened throughout the years, that the show has gotten more and more successful in America so therefore it takes up more of your time. But at the same time, the record label’s become bigger, the television company has gotten bigger, and I’m on more shows now. So when I say these things, it’s really a question of how much can do you properly, and run all parts of your business successfully, and also get to the point where people hopefully don’t get bored of you?
Who are some of your favorite entertainers of the last decade?
As an actor, I really like Philip Seymour Hoffman. I think he’s a genius. Music-wise, certainly in the last year I love Lady Gaga. Mainly because she’s made pop music fun again. I love Christina Aguilera, I think she’s incredible. And Beyoncé is the biggest star we’ve seen in 20 years. And I was very negative about her once—far, far too early on in her career.
What’s the worst decision you made this decade?
I’ve made so many bad decisions. Nothing that’s significantly affected my life today. There’s not one particular thing I regret.
How about that Scary Movie 3 cameo?
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.
Read more from Cowell in EW’s Best of the Decade issue, on newsstands now.