Didn't love American Idol last season? Simon Cowell has a promise for you: It's going to be better this time around.
In a conference call on Wednesday, Cowell dished about some of the changes for the upcoming Idol season, which kicks off Jan. 15 with audition footage from Philadelphia. "Ninety percent of what happened on the show last year was very good," Cowell said, but "we are completely, utterly reliant on who walks in the door in terms of the quality of contestants. Most of our focus this year was to make sure we got a better top 12 and a more interesting top 12 than what we got last year, and I'm pretty certain that we've got that this year." This year, he said, the competition will be wide open, with three or four strong girls and the same number of standout guys.
Cowell admitted that last season, the show spent too much time on guest mentors and not enough on the contestants: "If you'd asked me, for instance, 'What do you know about the girl who won last year, other than the fact that she's a good singer?' I couldn't really tell you. We didn't let the audience at home know enough. Everything was about their chat with Diana Ross or J. Lo or whoever it was. I think this year there will be more focus on the contestants and less focus on the person who is mentoring them that particular week."
Cowell also turned his notoriously sharp tongue to other topics, including the success and failure of Idol winners, his own plans to leave Idol, and even the U.S. presidential race. For some excerpts, just read more.
- On the terrible performers in the early auditions: "Is it fun doing it? No. It is becoming increasingly like torture. I think you have to give most of the people who come in at least three or four minutes, but it has gotten harder over the years. What's amazing, even after seven seasons — and we've got some shockingly bad people this year — is how much they still believe that they're right and I'm wrong. And they got more argumentative with me this year."
- On the success and failure of past Idols: "I think it's a reflection on the unpredictability of the record business, where fortunately we got it right more times than we got it wrong. Reuben [Studdard, who was recently dropped by his record label] is certainly one of the ones you would have backed at the beginning to be on his third or fourth album right now, but it didn't work out. There is no scientific or logical way of explaining how that happened."
- On some of the other changes for Idol this year: "There'll be a new set, which will be good. They tried a couple of bits and pieces in the Hollywood round having people play instruments, which wasn't particularly a good thing or a bad thing. On a show like Idol, I don't think you necessarily want to make change for the sake of change."
- On leaving Idol: "Nothing's gonna last forever. I think the exit point, to a point, is determined by the public, who eventually is going to get suck to death of me, if they haven't already. Nine years [the total when his contract is up in 2010] is probably enough to inflict on anyone, so that's what I've thought about in my mind. Can the show exist without me? Absolutely. It would probably get better."
Photo courtesy of Fox