With the November release of One Direction’s rumored-to-be-farewell album, Made in the A.M., and Fox’s American Idol kicking off its final season in January, music fans might be witness to the quiet end of a 21st-century pop phenomenon: the Simon Cowell era.
Consider this: Beginning with season-one Idol winner Kelly Clarkson, an artist discovered through a TV vehicle starring or created by Cowell has topped a major Billboard chart virtually every year since 2002. In addition to Clarkson and One Direction, Cowell helped make platinum-sellers out of Carrie Underwood, Susan Boyle, Leona Lewis and Chris Daughtry and momentary stars out of everyone from Fantasia Barrino to Taylor Hicks.
The power base of Cowell’s empire is that distinctly antediluvian phenomenon, broadcast TV. There may never be a more profitable star factory than Idol, on which he served as its most famous judge, and whose influence nearly ceased when he left the show in 2010. Meanwhile, the flagship U.K. edition of his X Factor talent program combined five contestants, Voltron-style, into One Direction.
Cowell can’t be counted out: His Syco Entertainment just signed a six-year extension with its joint-venture partner, Sony Music Entertainment. But the more meaningful development may have occurred in November, when Justin Bieber’s Purpose elbowed aside One Direction for the No. 1 album spot. Bieber, one might recall, was discovered not on Cowell’s beloved boob tube, but on its digital-age spinoff: YouTube.