From Harry Styles to Camila Cabello, Simon Cowell has been the man behind so many of the world’s biggest musicians these past two decades. And in a new interview, the 62-year-old entertainment mogul explained how all of the A-list artists he’s discovered have been just as special to him as they are to the millions of fans they’ve each amassed since rising to fame under his mentorship.
Cowell became a household name during his tenure as a judge on American Idol — where he gave Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Hudson and more their start — before kicking off a new talent-scouting show of his creation, Britain’s The X Factor. During the series’ seventh season in 2010, he helped assemble One Direction, pulling together Harry Styles, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson and Niall Horan, each of whom auditioned individually.
The band famously split up in 2015, and all five of the members have since pursued solo projects — with Styles in particular finding global success with all three of his albums hitting No. 1 on the Billboard 200. “I remember his audition like it was yesterday,” Cowell recently told Extra. “He was very charming, he was very confident, he was very funny, and I liked him.”
“I just thought there’s something … special about him,” continued the record executive. “You never forget those moments and, like I said, genuinely if we weren’t making people’s careers successful, I would never be making these shows today.”
Soon after Cowell created an American iteration of The X Factor in 2011, he came across a young Cabello, who was placed in girl group Fifth Harmony on the show before she went solo in late 2016. She, too, found immense success as an individual artist, charting 20 songs and counting in the Billboard Hot 100, and scoring two No. 1s so far.
“She wasn’t really supposed to audition,” Cowell said about the “Havana” singer. “I happened to go backstage and I saw her crying, asked her why she was crying, and she said, you know, it was too late for her to audition because she was a reserve, whatever that meant.”
“I said to her, ‘Well, I’m one of the producers, you just got an audition,’” he continued. “When those moments work, and seeing Camila today or Harry Styles, Leona Lewis, Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, there’s been so many times luckily where I’ve been there at that moment where their career is going to go in a completely different direction. If we didn’t have those things happen, then there’d be no point making the shows.”
Creating long-lasting careers like those of Styles’ and Cabello’s, Cowell says, has always been the goal of his competition show creations. “That’s probably the thing I’m most proud of,” he shared. “That the shows we’ve made have gone on to do what we intended them to do, which is more than be a TV show.”