NPR logo Fox: Simon Cowell Will Leave 'American Idol'

Fox: Simon Cowell Will Leave 'American Idol'

Simon Cowell is leaving American Idol after this season, he announced today. Frazer Harrison/Getty Images hide caption

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Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Simon Cowell turned up among a gaggle of Fox TV suits at the Television Critics Association press tour to announce that this season of American Idol — it kicks off tomorrow night — will be his last. He'll be shifting his attention, both on- and off-screen, to an American version of The X Factor, another talent competition that's already a hit in the U.K. Cowell, who will both produce and judge the new show, went so far as to whip out a pen and sign his new agreement on stage in front of critics.

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.

"America needs a second show," Cowell told critics, saying he prefers the X Factor format, which has no upper age limit and has a lower age limit of 14 or even younger. He pointed to the huge success of Susan Boyle, who broke out on Britain's Got Talent (and YouTube), saying that only a show with fewer limits than Idol can bring in a contestant like Boyle. He also issued a reminder that he has said in the past that he would, or might, leave at the end of this contract, only to find himself accused of saying that only to "negotiate."

Fox executives wouldn't name anyone who might appear on any "short list" of possible replacements for Cowell on Idol, saying that the long period between this announcement and the start of auditions for next season gives them a lot of time to figure it out.

Cowell was noncommittal about whether former Idol judge Paula Abdul might find her way to The X Factor.

"I adore Paula," he said. "Whatever happens, I will be working with her in some capacity, because I miss her."