"I was in Miami. I kind of knew this was coming if I was being honest with you. We had a few conversations," he continued. "He wasn't happy and I was trying to say to him, 'Look I think you should stay around a bit longer.' And then something just in him said 'I had enough,' and then once the decision was made I dealt with it."
He continued, "Then obviously [I] made sure the guys were OK because, you know, they were shocked as well."
Despite the major loss to the group, Cowell didn't want to push Malik too hard to stay.
"Once someone's made their mind up, they're gonna go. But also at the same time, I don't want to push him too much because, you know, he's 22 and I could see he was a bit stressed and he needed some time off," he said. "So I had to respect his decision. And then for the boys it was interesting 'cause they were in the middle of these live shows at the time. And then I watched the show back and the were, I've got to hand it to them, incredible to kind of work everything out so quickly. And they were amazing."
Now a foursome, 1D has already started work on their follow-up to 2014's Four. And Cowell notes the future is bright.
"I have a feeling they're going to deliver this year the best record they've ever made," he said. "I've heard some of the early stuff. So I'm feeling good."