Below is an excerpt from the cover story "The X Men" -- an in-depth interview with X Factor judges Simon Cowell and L.A. Reid about the second season of the show -- from this week's edition of Billboard Magazine, which also features stories on breaking country act Little Big Town, Cricket Wireless' Muve Music, the challenges arenas face in the contemporary touring climate, a special feature on the brand-new Barclays Arena in Brooklyn (which opens later this month), an interview with Cat Power, our incomparable colums and charts, and much more. You can buy a copy of the issue here, and subscribe here.
Eight years ago, Simon Cowell brought forth his spin on the "Idol" formula in the United Kingdom: "The X Factor." A ratings success (it's the United Kingdom's most-watched Saturday night program, with an average viewing audience last year of 11 million, according to ITV, which airs the show), it arrived stateside in 2011. And though it didn't garner the audience of 20 million that Cowell boasted it would, more than 12 million viewers watched it weekly, according to Nielsen. Those numbers lagged the 15.8 million viewers of "The Voice" (see story in the magazine), which for the first time will compete for viewers with "The X Factor" this fall, but the show stands out from the pack when it comes to music itself.
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"The X Factor" remains the only one to tie the winner with the executives they will work with as a recording artist: Cowell and Antonio "L.A." Reid. According to Cowell, it's "one of the reasons I believe our shows have been better. If you just booked recording artists on these panels, they can't do what I've done for a living and I can't do what they've done -- it's a different skill set. That's the most important reason we have done well."
The U.K. version produced its first international hitmaker in 2007: Leona Lewis. One Direction, Rebecca Ferguson and Olly Murs have followed, all signed to Cowell's Syco label and released in the United States through Columbia. Among Lewis, One Direction and Ferguson, the three acts have sold 3.2 million albums in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan. (Murs' stateside debut is slated for Sept. 25.)
Reid -- who marked his first year as chairman/CEO of Epic Records in July -- turned the first season of the U.S. "X Factor" into an Epic farm system, immediately signing four contestants to the label with a deal for a fifth -- runner-up Josh Krajcik -- in the works.
When the show returns Sept. 12-with new judges Britney Spears and Demi Lovato replacing the first season's Nicole Scherzinger and Paula Abdul-music buyers will have a chance to determine if Reid's instincts were spot on. Epic will release debuts from rapper Chris Rene and R&B singer Marcus Canty in October, with season-one winner Melanie Amaro following in December. Further recognizing the show's power, Reid snagged Cher Lloyd, a season-seven finalist on the U.K. "X Factor," for Epic, not Columbia. Her first U.S. charting single, "Want U Back," peaked at No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100, and her U.S. album debut arrives in October.
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"There would be no point in us doing the show if we genuinely didn't believe that, at the end, there would be some sort of legacy that makes the show worthwhile," Cowell says. "Over the years we've gotten better at putting an infrastructure around it. It's why I put myself on the shows. You've got to be on that panel and use all the years of experience you have had as A&R man and put that on display for all those people. It's quite unnerving."
"The X Factor" is the crown jewel at Syco, the joint venture between Cowell and Sony Music Entertainment. There are local versions of the program being produced in 41 territories including China, France, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Russia and Vietnam. The U.S. version airs in 166 countries. Syco reports that "X Factor" artists have had 39 No. 1s in the United Kingdom.
Cowell adds, "What we had to prove to the whole industry is that this is a process that you can trust. If we use the time on the show to mentor you properly, help you to become a proper recording artist, you can compete with the biggest artists around the world. It takes years to develop that trust, and we are getting a bit better at it now."
Reid approaches the matter with a little more caution. "The fact that we're releasing this music doesn't mean these artists will be microwaved into massive success," he says. "There is no shortcut. They will still have to have hit singles, still have to go out and perform to win people over beyond what they did on last season's 'X Factor.'
"I don't expect ground-breaking results," Reid adds. "What I do expect is the artists to give their all and the label will be behind them."
Cowell spoke by phone from St. Tropez, France, where he had sailed from Sardinia during a vacation just after filming visits with contestants at his Los Angeles home. While Cowell was vacationing, Reid spent the last week of August in A&R meetings at Epic and shooting "The X Factor" for two days in Los Angeles, then flying to Atlanta, where he spent a few hours with André 3000 going over his next album, working in the studio with rapper Future and meeting with producers. To be effective in Atlanta, Reid says, he needs to visit the city. "I have to go and actually see people and be a part of it to find meaningful music and meaningful artists."