By Frank James
In the hall of mirrors that keeps spawning reality talent shows that start in Britain, then bounce to the U.S., Simon Cowell, the notoriously hard-to-please judge without pity for contestants unready for prime time, has announced he's is leaving "American Idol" to do a U.S. version of a British reality let's-discover-the-next-pop-superstar show called "The X Factor."
Speculation had for some time been running high that at the end of this season, when his existing Idol contract ended, Cowell would be making the switch to the new show, which will launch in the fall of 2011. In confirming the rumors, Cowell and Fox executives Kevin Reilly and Peter Rice expressed the hope that The X Factor and American Idol can successfully co-exist, in part because they will run in different parts of the year, with The X Factor in the fall and Idol continuing to run in the spring. Cowell insisted that he wants Idol to remain strong and hopes to leave it "bigger and better" heading out of this season.
Simon Cowell has been telling everyone for years that he would exit "American Idol" after this season , but no one believed him. Now they do.
Cowell took the stage during Fox's portion of the TV Critics Assn. press tour and confirmed that he would leave "Idol" after this season, in order finally bring Brit TV sensation "The X Factor" to the states.
And in what might be a TV press tour first, Cowell even signed his new contract with the net in front of reporters.
As a result, the worst-kept secret in "Idol"-ville has finally come true. "X Factor," which was created by Cowell, will bow in fall 2011 on Fox.
That means Cowell will be off the air for 16 months , although Fox execs didn't rule out an appearance or two by Cowell on "Idol" next year.
Cowell's Syco label and FremantleMedia North America are behind "The X Factor." (Sony owns the franchise.)
A deal had been rumored for weeks , all while Fox denied that one was imminent. Nonetheless, it became clear over the weekend that the network was conjuring up some sort of Cowell-related splash in time for its day on press tour.
"Idol's" ratings have been falling for the past three seasons and Cowell's contract ends at the end of the current season. So a change was bound to come.
I'm not an "Idol" fan but the few times I have watched it make me wonder how successful it can be without Cowell since he provides some of the show's most dramatic moments from what I can tell with his hard-to-please but ultimately fair persona.
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Cowell is considered a critical part of what makes the "Idol" formula a smash, which is why he reportedly makes as much as $50 million annually from the show.
Cowell's departure will rep the latest blow for "Idol," which enters this year without judge Paula Abdul for the first time. The show also encountered some bumps last year, as the decision to add a fourth judge (Kara DioGuardi) disrupted its rhythm.
Cowell said he didn't think "X Factor" would have a negative impact on the fate of "Idol."
"I wouldn't have put 'X Factor' on if I didn't think it could exist separately," Cowell said. "I do two shows in the U.K., 'Britain's Got Talent' and 'The X-Factor,' and both had their highest years ever... I'm very proud of what ('Idol') has achieved. America needs a second show, a different type of show. I'll put my absolute heart and soul to make this as good as possible."