Simon Phillip Cowell (born 7 October 1959) is an English reality television judge, entrepreneur, philanthropist, film, record, and television producer. He is most recognized as a judge on the British TV talent competition series Pop Idol, The X Factor, and Britain's Got Talent, and the American TV talent competition shows American Idol, The X Factor, and America's Got Talent. Cowell owns the television production and music publishing house Syco.
As a judge, Cowell often makes blunt and controversial comments, including insults and wisecracks about contestants and their abilities. He combines activities in both the television and music industries. Cowell has produced and promoted singles and albums for various artists, including television personalities. He was most recently featured on the tenth series of Britain's Got Talent and the twelfth series of UK's The X Factor.
In 2004 and 2010, Time named Cowell one of the 100 most influential people in the world. New Statesman listed Cowell at number 41 in a list of "50 People who Matter [in] 2010". TV Guide named him at number 10 in their 2013 list of The 60 Nastiest Villains of All Time. According to The Sunday Times Rich List of the wealthiest people in the UK, Cowell was worth £325 million in 2015.
Cowell is involved in a number of charitable activities, and is a patron of the UK charity Together for Short Lives for all children with life-threatening and life-limiting conditions.
Cowell was born in Lambeth, London, and brought up in Elstree, Hertfordshire. His mother, Julie Brett (née Josie Dalglish; 1925-2015), was a ballet dancer and socialite, and his father, Eric Selig Phillip Cowell, Sr. (1918–1999), was an estate agent developer and music industry executive. Cowell's father was from a mostly Jewish family, though he did not discuss his background with his children (Cowell's paternal grandmother had emigrated from Poland). Cowell's mother was from a Christian background, and was of English descent. He has a younger brother, Nicholas Cowell, three half-brothers, John, Tony, and Michael Cowell, and a half-sister, June Cowell.
Cowell attended Radlett Preparatory School and the independent Dover College as did his brother, but left after taking GCE O levels. He passed English Language and Literature, and then attended Windsor Technical College where he gained another GCE in Sociology. Cowell took a few menial jobs—including, according to his brother Tony, working as a runner on Stanley Kubrick's The Shining—but did not get along well with colleagues and bosses, until his father, who was an executive at EMI Music Publishing, managed to get him a job in the mail room. However, after failing to get a promotion, he left to try out other jobs before returning to EMI.
Early career in music industry
In the early 1980s, he left EMI to form E&S Music with his former boss at EMI, but quit in 1983. He then formed Fanfare Records with Iain Burton, initially selling exercise videos, and music from acts such as the Italian orchestra Rondò Veneziano. He had his first hit song in 1986 with "So Macho" by Sinitta, success also came through Stock Aitken Waterman who produced a number of hits in the 1980s. However, in 1989, the company went under and Simon Cowell became nearly bankrupt.
Simon Cowell then found a job with BMG as an A&R consultant, and set up S Records under BMG. He restarted his career in the music business by creating novelty records with acts such as the puppets Zig and Zag, Power Rangers, and World Wrestling Federation. In 1995, through his persistence, he persuaded two actors Robson Green and Jerome Flynn in a UK television drama series Soldier Soldier to sign with him and record a song "Unchained Melody" that they had performed in the show. The recording by the duo, now named Robson & Jerome, quickly reached number 1 in the UK, staying at the top of the chart for seven weeks. It became the best selling single of 1995, and their self-titled album released later in the year also became the best-selling album of 1995. They would release a further album and 2 more singles before quitting, selling 7 million albums and 5 million singles in total. According to Cowell, they made him his first million. Later acts he signed included Five, Westlife and Teletubbies.
Idol franchise and Il Divo
In 2001, Cowell was given the role of judge on the first series of Pop Idol, a show that he and the show creator Simon Fuller successfully pitched to ITV Controller of Entertainment Claudia Rosencrantz. Cowell's S Records signed the top two finishers of the first season of Pop Idol, Will Young and Gareth Gates, both of whom went on to have No 1 UK hits, which were the top 2 best-selling singles of 2002, as well as that of top 2 of the decade of 2000s. He also became a judge on the first season of American Idol in 2002. With his notoriously critical reputation, Cowell is likened to TV personalities such as Judith Sheindlin, and Anne Robinson of her show. Cowell's prominence grew, fed by his signature phrase, "I don't mean to be rude, but ...", inevitably followed by an unsparingly blunt appraisal of the contestant's talents, personality, or even physical appearance. A lot of these one-liners were the product of coaching that Cowell received from noted publicist Max Clifford (who was sacked by Cowell after being convicted of sex offences as of May 2014). Cowell also appeared on the one-off World Idol programme in 2003, where it became clear that each country's version of the Idol had attempted to come up with its own "Simon Cowell" type personality. In 2003, Cowell placed No 33 on Channel 4's list of the all-time 100 Worst Britons.
Cowell formed a new company Syco, which is divided into three units - Syco Music, Syco TV and Syco Film. Cowell returned to music with his latest brainchild signed to Syco, the internationally successful operatic pop group Il Divo, consisting of three opera singers and one pop singer of four different nationalities. Inspired by the success of Il Divo, Simon created a child version, Angelis, beating competition from similar groups emerging at Christmas 2006.
On 11 January 2010, Cowell's exit from American Idol was made official. By the time Cowell left American Idol, the show was on its seventh consecutive season in its leadership among all primetime programs in the United States, even lasting up to 2011 in the longest winning streak in the U.S. overall viewership and demographics in the Nielsen ratings. The 2010 season was Cowell's last on the show. He was replaced by Steven Tyler. It was also announced that FOX had acquired the rights to The X Factor USA, an American version of Cowell's British show, The X Factor, which began in September 2011.
The X Factor
See also: The X Factor
In 2004, with Sharon Osbourne and Louis Walsh, Cowell was a judge on the first series of the British television music competition The X Factor, which he created using his production company, Syco TV. The X Factor was an instant success with the viewers and enjoyed its tenth series in 2013.
Leona Lewis, the winner of the third series of The X Factor, was signed to Cowell's label Syco and has had number one singles and album sales around the world. Cowell returned for a fourth series on 18 August 2007 alongside Osbourne, Walsh and new judge, Dannii Minogue. Walsh had previously been sacked from the judging panel by Cowell for the fourth series, and was subsequently replaced by Brian Friedman, who was a judge on Grease Is the Word. Walsh was later brought back a week into the auditions by Cowell when he and Osbourne realized that they missed Walsh and that without him, there was no chemistry between the judges. Cowell returned for the fifth series in 2008, with Walsh, Minogue and new judge Cheryl Cole, as Osbourne decided to quit before the show began. Cowell returned for series 6 and 7 as well, although series 7 was to be his last, as he left in 2011 in order to launch The X Factor in America. After placing third in the seventh series of The X Factor in the UK, boyband One Direction signed to Cowell's label in 2011, and the group have gone on to top singles and album charts worldwide. He was replaced by Gary Barlow.
The X Factor Australia launched in 2005 on Network Ten and it featured Mark Holden, Kate Ceberano and John Reid as the show's judges, but was cancelled after just one season due to poor ratings. However, the show returned in 2010, and has since performed strongly on the Seven Network.
Cowell also launched The X Factor USA in September 2011 on American broadcaster Fox. It was originally announced that he would be a judge both on the UK and U.S. editions of the show, which air at similar times of the year, but MTV officially reported on 17 April 2011 that this was not true; Cowell is no longer a judge in the UK version, but instead will be an enormous presence backstage. He was joined by Paula Abdul, L.A. Reid, Nicole Scherzinger and formerly Cheryl Cole. Cowell's act Melanie Amaro won the season, making Cowell the winning judge. Cowell and Reid returned for season 2, while Demi Lovato and Britney Spears joined the judging panel as replacements for Abdul and Scherzinger.
Cowell returned for a third season of The X Factor in September 2013 alongside Demi Lovato, while Britney Spears and L.A. Reid announced they would not be returning and were replaced by Kelly Rowland and Paulina Rubio. Cowell's last act Alex & Sierra won the season, marking Cowell's second season as the winning mentor after he won with Melanie Amaro in 2011.
In October 2010, Cowell signed a new three-year deals with ITV for both Britain's Got Talent and The X Factor, renewing both shows until 2013. On 15 November 2013, the three-year deal was extended by a further three years, keeping it on air until 2016.
In October 2013, it was reported that Cowell may return to the UK version of The X Factor for series 11 in the place of Gary Barlow, and on 7 February 2014, his return was officially confirmed. This resulted in the cancellation of the US version after three seasons by Fox. He joined judges Louis Walsh, Cheryl Fernandez-Versini, and new judge, former Spice Girls member Mel B (who replaced Nicole Scherzinger). For his eighth series, he was given the Over 25s category. On 13 December, Ben Haenow and Fleur East reached the final two, which meant that Cowell was the winning mentor for the first time since series 3 in 2006, when he had both Leona Lewis and Ray Quinn in the final. Haenow became the eleventh winner on 14 December. In March 2015, it was announced that Cowell would return to the X Factor for its twelfth series along with veteran judge Cheryl Fernandez-Versini, and newcomers Rita Ora and BBC Radio 1 DJ Nick Grimshaw.
Following the success of the Idol and X Factor franchises, Cowell, his company Syco, and its business partners developed a talent show format open to performers of any kind, not only singers, but also dancers, instrumentalists, magicians, comedians, novelty acts, and so on. The origins of the Got Talent format can be traced to the British show Opportunity Knocks.
Cowell is the executive producer of America's Got Talent, which debuted in June 2006, along with Fremantle producers of the Idol series, but he does not appear on the show due to the terms of his contract with Fox. The show was a huge success for NBC, drawing around 12 million viewers a week, and beating So You Think You Can Dance on Fox (produced by rival and Idol creator Simon Fuller).
Britain's Got Talent debuted on ITV in June 2007. Cowell appeared as a judge alongside Amanda Holden and Piers Morgan. The show was a ratings success and second and third seasons followed in 2008 and 2009. The third series featured a publicity coup when Susan Boyle made a global media impact with her regional audition performance comparable to that of any previous talent show series winner.
In 2015, Cowell launched La Banda, his first US show since his stint with X Factor USA. The show, designed to find male singers to form the "ultimate Latino Boy Band," launched on Univision in the US on 13 September 2015. Cowell was announced as the replacement for Howard Stern on America's Got Talent on 22 October 2015.
Other talent shows
On 16 March 2006, American Inventor debuted on ABC. Cowell co-produced the show with Peter Jones who had devised the concept. Fledgling entrepreneurs from across the United States competed to see who could come up with the best new product concept. The 2006 winner, Janusz Liberkowski, received $1 million and the opportunity to develop his idea into a business. The show returned one more time in 2007 for a second season.
In 2006, Cowell executive-produced Celebrity Duets, which was described as "an Idol show for Hollywood superstars." The show was hosted by Wayne Brady, and its judges were Marie Osmond, Little Richard and David Foster.
Cowell was also the executive producer of Grease Is the Word for ITV. This show set out to find performers to play Danny and Sandy in the 2007 West End revival of Grease. It was hosted by Zoë Ball and judged by Britons David Ian and Sinitta and Americans David Gest and Brian Friedman. The musical theatre casting concept had already been introduced by the BBC with the ratings hit How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?, but Cowell's show was not the hoped for success. He himself said, "It has been slaughtered by the critics – and rightly so. It is far too similar to our other formats."
Cowell collaborated with UK production company Shed Media to produce 2008 ITV drama series Rock Rivals, which is based on an X Factor type show. In 2011, Cowell also created his first game show, titled Red or Black? and hosted by Ant & Dec, for ITV. Series 1 was broadcast over seven nights in one week (excluding Tuesday), from 3 to 10 September. The show was recommissioned by ITV for a second series in 2012, which aired weekly.
In 2013 Cowell, in partnership with YouTube, launched a video-sharing competition called The You Generation. In 2013, Simon was executive producer for ITV cookery series Food Glorious Food, which was hosted by Carol Vorderman. He will do the same for an upcoming game show called Keep it in the Family, presented by Bradley Walsh.
Philanthropy and other television
Cowell has been involved in charity work for many years. He is a patron of Together for Short Lives, the leading UK charity for all children with life-threatening and life-limiting conditions. He was patron of Children's Hospices UK between 2009 and 2011 before it merged to become Together for Short Lives. He also supports animal rights and has appeared in a video for PETA in which he reminds drivers of the cruelty to animals that can occur when their pets are locked in cars in the summer. He donated money to Manchester Dogs' Home in England after it was hit by a large fire. In view of his charitable works, particularly the production of the charity single Everybody Hurts in aid of victims of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, as well as his services to the music industry, there was considerable media speculation as to whether Cowell would receive a knighthood in the Queen's 2010 Birthday Honours, a proposal allegedly put forward by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Cowell stated that he believed his chances of receiving the honour were "zero" following what he described as being a "royal row"; ultimately Cowell did not receive an honour in the list.
In November 2003, Cowell appeared on the charity telethon BBC Children in Need where viewers pledged thousands to see him get sawn in half. In December 2003, Cowell published his autobiography titled I Don't Mean to be Rude, but.... In it, he told the whole story of his childhood, his years working in music and experiences on Pop Idol, Pop Stars Rivals, and American Idol, and finally, his tips for being successful as a pop star. In 2010, he was added as a new entry to the latest edition of the UK's Who's Who.
Cowell has appeared as a guest voice in an episode of The Simpsons ("Smart and Smarter"), in which he gets beaten up by Homer Simpson (while criticizing Homer's punches). In May 2010, he portrayed himself again in an episode of The Simpsons, "Judge Me Tender". His voice was heard on an episode of Family Guy ("Lois Kills Stewie"), in which he told Stewie that his singing was so awful that he should be dead. He made an MTV Movie Award-winning cameo appearance as himself in Scary Movie 3, where he sits in judgment during a battle rap (and is subsequently killed by gunfire for criticising the rappers). He appears in the DVD version of Shrek 2 as a judge in Far Far Away Idol, and also provided the voice.
Cowell was once the fastest "Star in a Reasonably Priced Car" on BBC's motoring show Top Gear, driving a Suzuki Liana around the show's test track in a time of 1:47.1. When Top Gear retired the Liana along with its rankings after the eighth series, Cowell was the eighth fastest overall and the third fastest non-professional driver. On 11 November 2007 Cowell yet again appeared on Top Gear, achieving a time of 1:45.9 thus putting him ahead of chef Gordon Ramsay and back at the top of the table. His time of 1:45.9 was then tied with English rock singer Brian Johnson of AC/DC and Grand Designs host Kevin McCloud for the second fastest time, just 0.1 seconds behind Jamiroquai singer Jay Kay. In March 2015, Cowell backed Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson after he was suspended by the BBC for punching a colleague, with Cowell stating on Good Morning Britain: "He's apologised. But I think what is quite obvious is that the public are behind him, but you know, that's Jeremy."
He appeared on an episode of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? (the original UK version) and Saturday Night Live in 2004. Cowell has also guest-starred (filling in for Regis Philbin) in the popular talk show Live with Regis and Kelly during American Idol's finalist week in early 2006. Cowell introduced entertainer Dick Clark at the 2006 Primetime Emmy Awards. He was seen on the British charity telethon Comic Relief, appearing on Comic Relief Does The Apprentice where he donated £25,000 for a fun fair ticket. Cowell has also appeared on the MTV shows Cribs and Punk'd. On Punk'd, Ryan Seacrest and Randy Jackson set him up to believe his $400,000 Rolls Royce was stolen and had caused an accident by using a nearly identical car.
Cowell was a partner in the Royal Ascot Racing Club, a thoroughbred horse racing syndicate which owned the 2005 Epsom Derby winner, Motivator. Cowell was chosen as the first subject of the re-launched This Is Your Life in an episode broadcast on 2 June 2007. He was presented with the Red Book by Sir Trevor McDonald while presenting American Idol.
On 1 July 2007, Cowell appeared as a speaker at the Concert for Diana (alongside Randy Jackson and Ryan Seacrest) held at Wembley Stadium, London to celebrate the life of Princess Diana almost 10 years after her death. Proceeds from the concert went to Diana's charities as well as to charities of which her sons Princes William and Harry are patrons.
At the 2012 Pride of Britain Awards on 30 October, Cowell, along with Michael Caine, Elton John, Richard Branson and Stephen Fry, recited Rudyard Kipling's poem If— in tribute to the 2012 British Olympic and Paralympics athletes.
In October 2013 Cowell took part in a fund-raising event in Los Angeles in support of the Israeli Defense Forces. The event raised $20 million and Cowell made a personal donation of $150,000.
In 2004 and 2010, Time magazine named Cowell one of the 100 most influential people in the world. New Statesman listed Cowell at number 41 in a list of "50 People who Matter [in] 2010". TV Guide named him #10 in their 2013 list of The 60 Nastiest Villains of All Time.
In 2012, Cowell featured in the BBC Radio 4 series The New Elizabethans to mark the diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. A panel of seven academics, journalists and historians named Cowell among the group of people in the UK "whose actions during the reign of Elizabeth II have had a significant impact on lives in these islands and given the age its character".
Cowell was engaged to make-up artist Mezhgan Hussainy from 2010 until 2011. In July 2013, Andrew Silverman filed for an at-fault divorce in New York, citing adultery by his wife and naming Cowell as a co-respondent. News of the divorce filing became public two weeks later, when it was widely reported that Lauren Silverman and Cowell were expecting a baby. The child would be Cowell's first, but the second for Silverman, who has a son with Andrew Silverman.
When questioned by reporters, Cowell said, "There are a lot of things I will eventually clear up when the time is right, but I really have to be sensitive because there's a lot of people's feelings involved here," while the Silvermans released separate statements expressing concern for the well-being of their son during the divorce process. In August 2013, the Silvermans settled their divorce out of court, enabling Cowell to avoid being called as a witness in the divorce proceedings. Cowell subsequently confirmed that Silverman was pregnant with his child, and she gave birth to baby Eric on 14 February 2014.
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- Playboy Interview: Simon Cowell, February 2007
- Interview, HitQuarters Oct 2001
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