Simon Cowell

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Simon Cowell

Music producer, record company executive

Music executive Simon Cowell has been working in the entertainment business since 1977, and is the founder of S Records, a joint venture with BMG. He has also converted animated television shows, such as Teletubbies and The Power Rangers, into musical successes. However, he has achieved his most widespread notoriety as a judge of the television talent show American Idol. Cowell's acidic, blunt remarks about the performers's abilities are often true, but also often controversial.

Cowell grew up outside London, England, one of two sons of a dancer mother, Julie, and a music executive father, Eric. His family also included four half-siblings. Cowell was often bored in school, and as a result, he behaved badly, leading teachers to tell him he would never amount to anything. He moved from school to school, dropped out at age 17, and in 1977 began working in the mailroom of EMI, his father's music company. He then moved into the A&R field of this business.

When he was 22, Cowell and his business partner, Iain Burton, started a music publishing company, Fanfare, but the venture failed. A few years later, while working at a small record label, he met Pete Waterman, a successful music producer for BMG. Waterman told Cowell that his business tactics were "absolutely useless," according to People. Cowell was initially hurt by this cruelly accurate comment, but he accepted a position in A&R at BMG and followed Waterman around for the next three years, learning how the business really worked and building a list of pop stars. This venture took off, and between 1997 and 2002, Cowell's pop acts sold more than 25 million albums in the United Kingdom and had 17 number one singles. In 2001, Cowell created S Records, a joint venture with BMG. He also converted television shows, such as The Power Rangers and Teletubbies, into musical successes.

In 2001, Cowell and a partner decided to create a television show that would showcase amateur singers hoping for a break into the business. The show began as Pop Idol in the United Kingdom, and then crossed the Atlantic as American Idol—The Search for a Superstar, debuting in 2002. In the show, singers looking for fame and fortune compete and, one by one, are weeded out by judges. The first season's judges included singer Paula Abdul, music executive Randy Jackson, and Cowell.

The show's ratings increased steadily over the course of its first season, with as many as 15 million viewers watching the season finale on September 3 and 4, 2002. Over the course of the season, Cowell became known for his biting assessments of the singers. According to Daily Variety 's Phil Gallo, "Abdul tends to give out warm fuzzies; Jackson is hit-or-miss in giving a direct assessment but generally forgiving of minor slips; Cowell tells it like it is. And while what he says may be hurtful to the performer … his directness is immensely refreshing." Cowell's comments to performers included remarks that their singing was "rubbish," "pathetic," or that it sounded "like a train going off the rails," according to People. He told one contestant, "You will never, ever, ever have a career in singing." According to James Poniewozik in Time, he told another, "Who's your [singing] teacher? Get a lawyer and sue her."

Cowell's harsh assessments often rankled the more moderate Abdul, and led some contestants to speculate that Cowell was being particularly harsh because the controversy he created raised the show's ratings. Time 's Poniewozik noted that many viewers were entertained and even gratified by Cowell's devastating honesty: "You may wince at Cowell's barbs, but you also welcome them when Abdul or Jackson offers a wimpy 'Good job' to a singer who has scraped the fingernails of her ambition down the chalkboard of her limited ability."

In Daily Variety, Timothy M. Gray wrote, "The show has finally found its real star: judge Simon Cowell." As Gray noted, Cowell received more media attention than any of the singers on the show, "and in the process has become America's favorite new villain." Gray quoted Cowell, who explained his brutal honesty by saying, "I tell them the truth. I think I am being nice, because I'm saving them a lot of anguish in the future." Gray speculated that Cowell's image as a villain might be intensified by his posh English accent, and Cowell agreed: "Who the hell is this Englishman coming in and telling us what we're good at doing or not doing? If we [in the United Kingdom] had a loudmouth American telling us what we should or shouldn't be doing, we'd probably feel the same way." Some contestants were so angered by his remarks that after being rejected, they lurked outside the studio with baseball bats, forcing the show to hire more security guards.

For the show's second season, Cowell received $2 million (up from $250,000); with the larger salary, he purchased a mansion in Beverly Hills, California. In 2002, Cowell was named one of People 's sexiest men alive.

On May 19, 2003, Cowell began working with CBS on a new relationship reality show, called Cupid, scheduled for broadcast starting July 9, 2003. In the show, Cowell and a young woman named Lisa Shannon, an advertising executive from Detroit, Michigan, traveled the United States looking for "Mr. Right" for Shannon. Two of Shannon's best friends joined the entourage to judge young men, who "auditioned" for the part of Mr. Right. Each man had just 30 seconds to impress Shannon and her friends with his sense of humor or other characteristics. In the fourth episode, Shannon began going on dates with those who passed this initial screening; after eleven episodes, viewers would choose which of these suitors would propose marriage to Shannon. If she accepted, she and the man would split the $1 million "dowry." Cowell did not appear on the show, but was heavily involved in behind-the-scenes decisions.

In July of 2003, Cowell signed a three-year deal with Fox to remain on American Idol, as well as develop new projects for the network. According to, he would earn about $150,000 per episode for the third edition of the show, which was scheduled for January of 2004. On July 15, 2003, Cowell's agent announced that he had signed a $2 million deal with Random House for a book about American Idol. The book, titled I Don't Mean to be Rude, But, was published December 2, 2003, by Broadway Books, an imprint of the Doubleday Broadway Publishing Group under the Random House division of Bertelsmann AG. Co-authored by his older brother, Tony, the book provides an insider's view of the show and chronicle of Cowell's career.

For the Record . . .

Born on October 7, 1959, in England; son of Eric P. (a music executive) and Julie (a dancer) Cowell.

With EMI Music Publishing, 1977-82; founder and co-owner, Fanfare Records, 1982-89; A&R consultant, BMG records, 1989—; founder and co-owner, S Records, 2001–; judge, Pop Idol, 2001-02, American Idol, 2002–; producer, Cupid, 2003–.

Awards: Record Executive of the Year, 1998, 1999; A&R Man of the Year, 1999.

Addresses: Home—London, England, and Beverly Hills, CA. Office—S Records, Bedford House, 69-79 Fulham High St., London SW6 3JW, England.

Typical of Cowell's career, the 2004 launch of his new television program, X Factor, was marked by controversy. The show features a panel of three judges: Louis Walsh, Sharon Osbourne and Cowell, who provide criticism for aspiring vocal acts. The creator of Pop Idol, Simon Fuller, filed suit against Cowell's production company, Syco, claiming Cowell's X Factor television show copies his Pop Idol format. Cowell called the charges "utterly ridiculous." The suit failed, but controversy with the program continued, culminating in the season's grand finale involving a vicious verbal attack on the season's winner by Osbourne. It remains unclear as to whether or not she will be returning for the show's upcoming season. Considering that an Australian version of X Factor is scheduled to debut in early 2005, it seems safe to assume continued or additional controversy is unlikely to negatively affect Cowell's career.

Despite his reputation for having a sharp tongue, Cowell still has legions of fans. According to People, Cowell's friend Terri Seymour said, "Women are just desperate to get near him." The article noted that Cowell has a softer side: when he is not working, he volunteers at an animal shelter near his home in London, has lunch with his mother every Sunday, and takes bubble baths when he wants to relax. Another article in People told a story that revealed Cowell's sensitive side: One day Cowell was driving in London and saw a man kicking a dog. He promptly "screeched to a halt, leapt out of the car, and kicked the man," People quoted Cowell's friend Jackie St. Clair, who said this showed that, "Underneath it all, he's a big softy. He's a really sensitive, kind man."

Sensitive or not, Cowell warned People that he was not interested in settling down; in relationships, he enjoyed the chase, but quickly became bored once he had the object of his affection. In addition, in other areas of his life, he was driven by the need to make more money. His main aim in life, he told Sathnam Sanghera in the Financial Times, was to find a singer who would sell millions of records for his label: "If I wasn't selling records on the back of this, it would all be a waste of time."



Debrett's People of Today, Debrett's Peerage Ltd, 2002.


Daily Variety, August 20, 2002, p. 5; September 4, 2002, p. 19.

Entertainment Weekly, August 9, 2002, pp. 20-25.

Financial Times, September 24, 2002, p. 10.

Mediaweek, May 12, 2003, p. 5.

New York Post, May 9, 2003, p. 133.

People, July 8, 2002, p. 107; December 2, 2002, p. 117; May 26, 2003, p. 56.

PR Week, December 7, 2001, p. 28.

Time, July 1, 2002, p. 61.


"Cowell signs for 3 more years of Idol,", (July 8, 2003).

"Idol judge lands $2 million book deal,", (July 18, 2003).

—Kelly Winters

views updated

Cowell, Simon 1959–


Full name, Simon Phillip Cowell; born October 7, 1959, in Brighton, East Sussex, England; son of Eric P. (a real estate developer and music executive) and Julie (a ballet dancer) Cowell. Avocational Interests: Auto racing.

Addresses: Office—S Records, Bedford House, 67-79 Fulham High St., London SW6 3JW, England. Agent—Creative Artists Agency, 9830 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90212.

Career: Television personality, producer, and writer. RCA, worked in mail room, then in artist and repertory department; EMI Music Publishing, worked in artist and repertory, c. 1977–82; Fanfare (record label), founder and co-owner, 1982–89; BMG Records, executive and artist and repertory consultant, beginning 1989; S Records (record label), creator and co-owner, 2001–; partner of 19 Entertainment, 19 Management, and Ronagold Ltd.; Syco (production company), founder; Simcow Productions, London, producer; music producer. Appeared in commercials for Pizza Hut restaurants, 2002, Vanilla Coke soft drink, 2003, and other products.

Awards, Honors: Named record executive of the year, 1998, 1999, and artist and repertory man of the year, 1999; Emmy Award nominations, outstanding reality/competition program (with others), 2003, 2004, Teen Choice Awards, favorite television personality, 2003, and Teen Choice Award nominations, choice male reality/variety television star and choice television personality, 2004, all for American Idol: The Search for a Superstar.


Television Appearances; Series:

Judge, Pop Idol, ITV (England), 2001–2002.

Himself, One Hit Wonderland, 2001.

Himself, Pop Idol Extra, ITV2, 2001.

Judge, American Idol: The Search for a Superstar (also known as American Idol, American Idol 2, and American Idol 3), Fox, 2002–.

Presenter of "Even More Annoying Records", Top Ten, Channel 4 (England), 2002.

The Xtra Factor, ITV2, 2004.

Judge, The X Factor, ITV, 2004.

Television Appearances; Specials:

The Hit Factory: The Pete Waterman Story, Channel 5 (England), 2001.

Bubblegum Babylon, VH1, 2002.

The Luvvies, 2003.

Comic Relief 2003: The Big Hair Do, BBC (England), 2003.

Pop Idol: One Year On, ITV2, 2003.

Being Simon Cowell, Granada (England), 2003.

Interviewee, Paul Abdul: The E! True Hollywood Story, E! Entertainment Television, 2003.

Greasemania, ITV (England), 2003.

The Importance of Being Famous, Channel 4 (England), 2003.

Judge, World Idol, Fox, 2003.

Judge, American Idol: The Final Two, 2003.

Judge, American Idol: Halfway Home, Fox, 2003.

Judge, American Idol: Best of the Worst, Fox, 2003.

Judge, American Idol: Uncut, Uncensored, and Untalented, Fox, 2004.

Judge, American Idol: The Road to Hollywood, Fox, 2004.

Interviewee, American Idol: The Phenomenon, Fox, 2004.

Judge, American Idol: The Final Three, Fox, 2004.

Judge, American Idol: Halfway Home, Fox, 2004.

Interviewee, American Idol: The E! True Hollywood Story, E! Entertainment Television, 2004.

(Uncredited; in archive footage) Who Killed Saturday Night TV?, Channel 4, 2004.

National Television Awards Party of the Year, ITV, 2004.

Simon Cowell: American Idol, ITV, 2004.

The Record of the Year 2004, ITV, 2004.

Television Appearances; Awards Presentations:

Presenter, Brit Awards 2002, ITV (England), 2002.

Presenter, The Teen Choice Awards 2002, Fox, 2002.

Presenter, MTV Video Music Awards 2002, MTV, 2002.

MTV Video Music Awards 2003, MTV, 2003.

The 55th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, Fox, 2003.

Presenter, The National Music Awards 2003, ITV, 2003.

The British Comedy Awards 2003, ITV, 2003.

Presenter, The 56th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, ABC, 2004.

The 2004 Billboard Music Awards, Fox, 2004.

Presenter, The British Comedy Awards, ITV, 2004.

Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards, Nickelodeon, 2005.

Television Appearances; Episodic:

Voice of Henry, "Smart and Smarter," The Simpsons (animated), Fox, 2004.

Television Guest Appearances; Episodic:

The Frank Skinner Show, ITV (England), 2001.

Ruby, 2002.

So Graham Norton, Channel 4 (England), 2002.

Howard Stern, E! Entertainment Television, multiple appearances, 2002–2004.

Today, NBC, 2002, 2005.

Total Request Live (also known as TRL), MTV, 2002.

The Wayne Brady Show, syndicated, 2002.

Cribs (also known as MTV Cribs), MTV, 2002.

RI:SE, 2002.

The Daily Show, Comedy Central, 2003.

Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway, ITV, 2003, 2004.

The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, NBC, multiple appearances, beginning 2002.

Friday Night with Jonathan Ross, BBC (England), 2003.

American Juniors, Fox, 2003.

Mad TV, Fox, 2003.

Richard & Judy, Channel 4, 2003.

Children in Need (telethon), BBC, 2003, 2004.

This Morning, ITV, 2003, 2004.

"Christmas Millionaire," Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, syndicated, 2003.

E!'s 101, E! Entertainment Television, multiple appearances, 2003.

Late Show with David Letterman, 2003.

Live with Regis and Kathie Lee, syndicated, 2003, 2004, 2005.

Larry King Live, Cable News Network, 2004.

The Sharon Osbourne Show, syndicated, 2004.

Saturday Night Live, NBC, 2004.

GMTV, ITV, 2004.

Parkinson, BBC, 2004.

The Paul O'Grady Show, ITV, 2004.

Today with Des and Mel, ITV, 2004.

The View, ABC, 2004.

On Air with Ryan Seacrest, multiple appearances, 2004.

101 Most Starlicious Makeovers, E! Entertainment Television, 2004.

Ministry of Mayhem, 2004.

Girls on the Top, 2004.

Late Night with Conan O'Brien, NBC, 2005.

Ellen: The Ellen DeGeneres Show, syndicated, 2005.

Extra, 2005.

Television Appearances; Pilots:

Himself, Banzai, Fox, 2003.

Television Work; Series:

Creator, Pop Idol, ITV (England), 2001.

Creator and executive producer, Cupid, CBS, 2003.

Creator, The X Factor, ITV, 2004.

Film Appearances:

Himself, Scary Movie 3, Miramax/Dimension Films, 2003.

Voice of judge, Shrek 2 (animated), 2004.



Late Night with Conan O'Brien: The Best of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog (also known as The Best of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog), Lions Gate Films Home Entertainment, 2004.

Voice, Far Far Away Idol (animated), DreamWorks Home Entertainment, 2004.


(With Tony Cowell) I Don't Mean to Be Rude, But … Backstage Gossip from American Idol & the Secrets that Can Make You a Star, Broadway Books, 2003.



Contemporary Musicians, Volume 52, Thomson Gale, 2005.

Cowell, Simon, and Tony Cowell, I Don't Mean to Be Rude, But … Backstage Gossip from American Idol & the Secrets that Can Make You a Star, Broadway Books, 2003.

Newsmakers, Issue 4, Gale, 2003.


Billboard, June 28, 2003, p. 1.

Detroit Free Press, July 2, 2002.

Entertainment Weekly, August 9, 2002, pp. 20-25.

Heat, February 9, 2002, pp. 78-81.

Interview, April, 2003, p. 80.

People Weekly, July 8, 2002, p. 107; February 3, 2003, p. 86; May 26, 2003, p. 56; February 28, 2005, p. 88.

Radio Times, February 9, 2002, p. 18.

TV Guide, August 17, 2002, pp. 32-36; February 21, 2004, pp. 42-46; March 13, 2005, p. 20; March 20, 2005, pp. 48-50.


BBC News,, April 24, 2002; August 31, 2004; September 10, 2004.

Fox News,, May 27, 2003.


Being Simon Cowell (television special), Granada (England), 2003.

Simon Cowell: American Idol (television special), ITV (England), 2004.

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