[08/26/08 - 12:02 AM]
Interview: "America's Got Talent" Executive Producer Simon Cowell
By Jim Halterman (TFC)

Simon Cowell is a man with an eye for talent and success. While "American Idol" preps for a new season starting in January, "The X Factor" sits high atop the UK ratings and singing discoveries Leona Lewis and David Archuleta climb the music charts, Cowell spent some time talking about tonight's return of NBC's summer success (and Cowell creation) "America's Got Talent" as well as what he thinks contributes to the show's popularity.

Explaining the growth in audience that "America's Got Talent" has achieved this summer, Cowell referred to a turning point for the series. "Everything changed last year on 'Got Talent' when the guy who won � Terry Fator, this ventriloquist � went on to sign a $150 million contract with a Vegas casino. So, you know, the show actually did its job. It found a star and it's a competition worth winning because if it's not worth winning, I think the audience gets fed up with these shows."

Cowell also looked to the past as another component to the show's success. "This show provides a platform for a lot of people who couldn't in 'American Idol' and actually is - put its roots in - because it's all being done effectively in the U.S. before starting with the Ed Sullivan Show, you know. And I think America likes these kinds of variety shows. But this format now, it's showing in over 100 countries. It's a really popular show."

With judges David Hasselhoff, Sharon Osbourne and Piers Morgan, Cowell also gives them kudos for spotting the talent that has been showcased. "I think they did a good job last year. You know, they believed in the guy who won. When we watch the shows back if I thought they were completely nuts then we wouldn't have them on the show. But, you know, they seem to be making�pretty good decisions." Cowell added that the job of the judges is bigger than just playing critic. "What I'm interested in watching is to make sure that they give the right advice now to the contestants who are going forward because, you know, it's one thing just to criticize but you've got to also give, you know, good advice which is going to help them."

And what about Simon's own judge of talent? Has he been spread too thin with his many talent-based series? "I think it's definitely gotten better. I think these shows have helped me evaluate talent better than I used to be able to do because as I said, you don't just look for someone who's going to be a success in their own country." Simon cites the winner of his "X Factor" show in London as a perfect example. "You now say you want to find a worldwide star and this girl Leona Lewis, who was recently number one in America in the single and album charts, she started off on our show in the UK and she was a receptionist in an office. Very, very shy girl but with an incredible talent. And all the doors had been closed for this girl in the business. But, you know, when she came on our show, you know, you just see something. So - and I think I've been able to spot talent better through judging all these shows over the years."

That said, when asked about the ratio between luck and talent, Cowell admits that he feels it is a combination of the two but the shows themselves are more and more necessary. "I think without these shows, it's very interesting because the music business, as you know, has got much, much tougher now and there's not an awful amount of exposure available to variety acts anymore. They - these contestants desperately need these shows now. I think the answer to the question is, though, if you're good you're good and you will stand out in a crowd.

Speaking specifically about some of the "America's Got Talent" contestants, Cowell discussed fan favorite Kaitlyn Maher, who is a tad younger than the others. "Well, you know, we talk about this a lot. There's one argument that says we shouldn't be putting these kids on under the age of 16. I think you've got to take it case by case. I mean, on the show this year we've got a four year old [Maher]. But I've got to tell you, this is the most mature, ambitious four year old I've ever met in my life and if we didn't put her on this show, she'd be entering something else." However, besides the kids themselves, Cowell believes, "you've got to meet the parents and evaluate, you know, whether everything is sensible or not. So I think it's probably a good thing because�if they really are talented, why not give them an opportunity?"

Donald Braswell II has been one of the more controversial contestants, with fans split between loving and hating the singer. "I thought he was very hard done by on the show. I think if I was on the panel, because of what he went through, I would've put him through and I'm sure he's going to be a contender." And though Cowell is usually the harshest judge on "American Idol," he clearly is cheering Braswell on. "I mean, he had a very interesting story. He's had some tough luck that guy and I think for him to overcome what he did because he had this terrible car accident and then to win over that audience who were horrendous, I mean, you know, he deserves a break. So I hope he does well." There's some speculation that Braswell could be the Wild Card contestant, which was voted by the viewers to return to the stage after being voted off. Cowell promises that it will be revealed at the end of tonight's episode.

Like the nationwide tours that the "Idol" contestants embark on once the season has ended, Cowell talked about the possibility of a similar situation being set up for the "Got Talent" contestants post-season. "Well I think there's a very good chance this year that we will do a tour possibly in Vegas. So like the Idol contestants, they're going to get a chance to showcase themselves. And some of them will get work, some won't. But we'll be a little bit more involved with them afterwards."

Finally, the audience themselves play a big part in the performances of the contestants, especially at those times when booing becomes the common response. Cowell sees an upside to this behavior. "I quite like watching it because it actually makes me appear like a nicer person." Speaking more seriously, Cowell added that the audience is not necessarily encouraged to not boo. "So I'm going to kind of encourage it. But no, I mean, when they don't like someone -- this lot -- they are scary. But at the same time, when they like you it's a fantastic lift. But, you know, we kind of encourage them to kind of say whatever you like. If you don't like them boo, and if you do like them cheer. But, you know, they make you very, very clear. But it's very, very, very tough for the contestants. They've always said that."

"America's Got Talent" airs tonight and tomorrow on NBC from 8-10pm EST.

  [august 2008]  


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