MIPCOM ’14: Cowell, Morgan reflect on highs, lows

Simon Cowell, in Cannes to receive MIPCOM's Personality of the Year honor, discussed highs, lows, and the failure of the U.S. X Factor, in conversation with his friend Piers Morgan.
October 14, 2014

Reality competition mogul Simon Cowell defended and reflected on the U.S. failure of The X Factor format during a keynote chat in France yesterday (October 13).

Cowell, in Cannes to receive MIPCOM’s Personality of the Year prize, spoke candidly in conversation (pictured above) with his friend and former Got Talent judge Piers Morgan.

When the topic turned to the American version of The X Factor, which was cancelled last year as third-season ratings began to sink, Cowell said he blamed himself in part for the show’s cancellations.

“I said we’re going to get 20 million [viewers] and we got 12.5 million,” he offered. “If I hadn’t opened my big mouth, it would’ve been perceived as a hit.”

Nevertheless, he defended the format, and said its U.S. broadcaster was wrong to give up on it so soon. “X Factor is the best music format in the world,” he said, opining that Fox “gave up on it too quickly.”

“If they’d stuck with it and I’d had a bit more confidence, I would have turned that show around in a couple of years,” he said. “I would have just kept on banging away – you get one lucky year with casting, you get a One Direction, and the whole thing turns on its head.

“I haven’t given up on The X Factor in the U.S., you can bring these things back.”

Elsewhere at the talk, the music and TV mogul reflected on darker moments in his career, such as having to move back home with his parents after a particularly bad spell in the music industry.

He also recalled 30 years ago coming to Cannes for MIPCOM’s music-focused sister event MIDEM and selling nothing over the course of a week, before “heading back on the MIDEM charter flight and feeling pretty depressed.”

At the other end of the scale, he recalled the moment in the 1990s when he was able to surprisingly exploit TV stars Robson Green and Jerome Flynn, who had risen to prominence in British TV drama Soldier Soldier.

The pair had sung the song “Unchained Melody” during the series, and Cowell convinced them to record and release a studio version of the song. The resulting cover spent seven weeks at the top of the UK charts and was followed by two chart-topping albums.

Cowell said it wasn’t the “a ha” moment that led to competition shows such as X Factor and Got Talent, although he recalled of the incident: “I saw the power of TV, and how it could create an emotion.

“There’s only two things that matter: stars and hits,” Cowell told attendees. “Don’t work on hype; don’t work on make-believe.”

He also spoke of his attitude towards running a company and having staff work for him, passed on to him from his father: “Everybody has an invisible sign on their head that says, ‘make me feel important,’” he said.

On the topic of the current wave of competition show judges, he was critical, saying that an over-reliance on celebrities was not best serving the contestants.

When he was a judge, he said, he was also a music industry exec, so it was in his best interest to find a hit star. “The panels now are so celebrity-driven – but artists don’t want to find other artists,” he offered.

He also said that, “at the moment, it’s all about gimmicks,” insisting that a successful TV competition show was not about “spinning chairs, or a wall going up and down” – a thinly veiled swipe at The Voice.

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