Simon Cowell started a quick conversation by soliciting an opinion from this reporter about the premiere episode of The "X Factor" that will tonight (Sept. 21) on Fox. After noting that it is indeed as he has said it would be -- over the top, full-bore production values and loaded with emotional back-stories -- he seemed pleased with the assessment.
"We probably reached the point" where it could not be any larger, Cowell said of the auditions that America will see Wednesday and Thursday. "Five thousand people is more than enough in the audience -- they make a lot of noise. But no matter how big it looked, it has to be an intimate audition because (the camera) has to take it down to us and the contestants."
Billboard.com spoke to Cowell about the coming season of "The X Factor."
We know each of the judges wind up mentoring a group of singers. When does that take place and where are you in the process now?
We're at the section of the show where there are 32 in each category -- the boys, the girls, group and over-30s. They come to your house for a couple of days and we cut it down to four each at that point. I'll have four finalists in (late) October when we go into the first live show.
On "American Idol" you always stressed the importance of song selection in moving through the competition. When you're looking at singers who all fit in a single category, does it still have similar meaning?
It means everything. And how you arrange it shows us how you are going to work with us on this show.
The premiere is big on showing a wide range of ages. Is there more empathy from audiences for older acts? How do you see younger, less-formed singers competing against people who have been doing this for a while?
When I first came up with the idea and pitched the show, I said, "Imagine a world where a 16-year-old would compete with a 40-year-old." In a weird way that's what would happen every week. We tried to keep it as close to the real music business as possible -- Madonna is competing with Lady Gaga and Katy Perry. It's what makes the music business interesting to me. We're seeing some 14- and 15-year-olds who are so arrogant and so cocky that I want them to disappear, but they are so good.
Some of those teenagers have been raised on competition shows like "American Idol." Do you see the effects or people shaping themselves based on what they have seen on TV?
I don't think it affects the 13- to 16-year-olds. That's the YouTube generation -- everything is dictated by the Internet and it has nothing to do with television. It's very very cool. These kids have their own attitude and their moms are not telling them what to do or what to sing. I think that's good.
Is there room for original songs on "X Factor?"
The last audition you see in the premiere is a guy performing his own song. An original would have to be an incredibly good song. I don't want my contestants to be judged by a song that's not (a hit), but I have two singers who write their own material. Maybe we will.