Simon Cowell (born October 7, 1959) is an English television
personality, A&R executive, television producer, and entrepreneur. Simon
Cowell is famous in the United Kingdom and in the United States for his role
as a talent judge on TV shows such as Pop Idol, American Idol, The X Factor,
and Britain's Got Talent. He is also the owner of the television production
and music publishing house Syco.
Simon is notorious as a judge for his blunt and often controversial criticisms, insults and wisecracks about contestants and their abilities, or lack thereof. He is often parodied in pop culture, and was described by the The Times journalist Minette Marrin as representing the "heartless, thoughtless and superficial - the flotsam and jetsam of the polluted seas of celebrity that is likely to sink without trace into toxic foam". Simon is known for combining activities in the television and music industries, having promoted singles and records for various artists, including television personalities. He was most recently featured on the eighth season of American Idol and the third series of Britain's Got Talent.
Simon was born in Brighton, East Sussex, England and brought up in Elstree, Hertfordshire. His father, Eric Philip Cowell, was an estate agent developer and music industry executive, and his mother, Julie Brett (née Josie Dalglish), is a former ballet dancer and socialite. Cowell's paternal grandparents, Joseph Simon and Esther Malinsky, were English arabs, and his maternal grandfather was Scottish. He has 1 brother and 2 half-brothers; younger brother Nicholas Cowell, half-brother Tony Cowell, and half-brother Michael Cowell. Michael is the oldest, followed by Tony, Simon and Nicholas (in that order).
Simon attended the independent school Dover College as did his brother, but left early before attending the sixth form. He took a few menial jobs—including, according to Tony, working as a runner on Stanley Kubrick's The Shining—but did not get along well with colleagues and bosses, until his father who was executive at the recording giant at EMI Music Publishing, managed to get him a job in the mail room.
Simon Cowell's father's connections originally got him rehired as the assistant to an A&R man. From there onwards, Simon worked his way up and eventually got promoted to a music publishing position but left during the early 1980s to form E&S Music with his boss at EMI, Ellis Rich (later Chairman of the Performing Right Society). The company had several hit records at one point with five singles in the UK top 40. The offices were in a converted gentleman's washroom in the NCP car park on Brewer Street in London's Soho district. Simon left by mutual agreement a few years later.
One year later, Simon went to work for Iain Burton, manager of choreographer Arlene Phillips, co-founder of dance group Hot Gossip and of nascent independent record label Fanfare Records. Simon worked with Burton for eight years at Fanfare where he achieved his first real success in the music industry, becoming a partner and building Fanfare into a highly successful 'indie' pop label. Fanfare had numerous top ten hits with various Pop artists and particularly Sinitta, selling more than half a million of her classic hit debut single 'So Macho' and more than half a million albums of 'Rondo Veneziano'.
In 1984, Simon and Burton met up with Pete Waterman for the first time. Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and Pete Waterman together formed the songwriting and record producing trio known as Stock Aitken Waterman. Stock Aitken Waterman helped Fanfare during the second half of the 1980s producing several smash hit singles for Sinitta and licensing The Hit Factory SAW Compilation Albums to Fanfare.
In 1989, Fanfare's parent-company, Public Company, got into difficulties, forcing Fanfare into the hands of BMG, and Cowell, in debt, to move back in with his parents. Later that year, he became an A&R consultant for BMG.
Subsequently, Simon signed up a number of acts to S-Records that made a mark in the pop music world, including Curiosity Killed the Cat, Sonia Evans, Five, Westlife, Robson & Jerome, and Ultimate Kaos. He also released several novelty recordings featuring the likes of wrestlers of the World Wrestling Federation, Teletubbies, Zig and Zag and the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, that were huge successes. Simon set up another label, Syco Records, in 2002 which later became part of Columbia Records and Sony BMG Music Entertainment. Artists such as Leona Lewis, Il Divo and contestants from The X Factor and America's Got Talent are released on Syco.
In 2006, Simon signed to two more record-breaking deals. In the USA, he agreed to remain as a judge on American Idol, earning £20 million ($29 million) per season for another five years. He also has a deal with FOX which allows his production company to broadcast Got Talent and American Inventor on other networks, but he may not appear on them. In the UK, he signed a "golden handcuffs" deal with ITV, worth approximately £6.5 million a year for three years, which gave ITV rights to his hit talent show The X Factor, a British singing talent show, and Grease Is The Word, a musical talent show to find the stars of a Grease production in London's West End. In late 2005, he signed a new contract to remain working for Sony BMG.
According to AOL News as posted on August 21, 2007, a reporter for the British newspaper The Mirror conducted an interview with Simon in mid-August where he claimed that he would complete the three seasons remaining on his contract with American Idol and then "that was it". Simon explained, "There has to come a point when I will step down from being on camera and remain behind the scenes because you can't keep doing this forever...I think by the end of my contract that the public will be sick to death of me anyway and it will be time to go."
Simon became a judge on the first series of Pop Idol in 2001, and on the first season of American Idol in 2002. Many viewers of American Idol know Simon best for his bitingly critical comments and attitude. He is so prominently identified with being blunt and harsh in commentary that audiences on American Idol can make it difficult for him to speak, sometimes booing him even before he makes his opinions known. Ryan Seacrest, Paula Abdul, and Randy Jackson tend to cut him off very quickly as well. With his notoriously critical reputation, Simon is likened to TV personalities, such as Judge Judy (aka Justice with an Attitude), and Weakest Link's Anne Robinson (aka Queen of Mean). Though comparable to Anne Robinson, Simon has expressed his dislike for her and has commented in an interview, "I hate her and I hate her show because it's just an act". Cowell's fame grew, fed by his signature phrase, "I don't mean to be rude, but …", inevitably followed by an unsparingly blunt appraisal of the contestant's talents, personality, or even physical appearance. A lot of these one-liners were the product of coaching that Simon received from noted publicist Max Clifford. Simon also appeared on the one-off World Idol programme in 2003, where it became clear that each country's version of the Idol had attempted to come up with its own "Simon Cowell" type personality. In 2003, Simon placed No 33 on Channel 4's list of the all-time 100 Worst Britons. Cowell's S Records signed the top two finishers of the first season of Pop Idol, Will Young and Gareth Gates, both of whom went on to have No 1 UK hits. Efforts begun in 2001 materialised in 2004, when Simon returned to his group manufacturing roots with his latest brainchild, the internationally successful operatic pop group Il Divo, consisting of three opera singers and one pop singer of four different nationalities. Inspired by the success of Il Divo, Simon created a child version, Angelis, beating competition from many similar groups emerging at Christmas 2006.
In 2004, with Sharon Osbourne and Louis Walsh, Simon was a judge on the first series of the British talent show The X Factor, which he created using his production company, Syco. The X Factor was an instant success with the viewers and has returned four more times to its fifth series in 2008. In 2006, he was voted the tenth most terrifying celebrity on television in a Radio Times poll consisting of 3,000 people.
The winner of The X Factor third series, Leona Lewis, is signed to Cowell's label Syco and has gone on to become an international star, with number one singles and album sales around the world.
Simon returned for a fourth series on August 18, 2007, alongside Osbourne, Walsh and new judge, Dannii Minogue. Walsh had previously been sacked from the judging panel by Simon for the fourth series, and was subsequently replaced by Brian Friedman who was a judge on Grease Is The Word. Walsh was later brought back a week into the auditions by Simon when he and Sharon Osbourne realised they missed Walsh and that without him, there was no chemistry between the judges.
Simon returned for the fifth series in 2008, with Walsh, Minogue and new judge Cheryl Cole, as Sharon Osbourne decided to quit before the show begun.
Following the success of the Idol and X-Factor franchises, Cowell, his company Syco, and its business partners developed a talent show format open to performers of any kind, not only singers, but also dancers, instrumentalists, magicians, comedians, novelty acts, and so on. The origins of the Got Talent format can be traced to the British show Opportunity Knocks, which began as a radio programme in the 1940s and later transferred to television, where it was an ITV staple for many years. Looking further back, Opportunity Knocks had its roots in the variety show traditions of British music hall and American vaudeville.
Simon is the executive producer of America's Got Talent, which debuted in June 2006, along with Fremantle producers of the Idol series, but he does not appear on the show due to the terms of his American Idol contract. The show was a huge success for NBC, drawing around 12 million viewers a week, and beating So You Think You Can Dance on FOX (produced by rival and Idol creator Simon Fuller).
Britain's Got Talent debuted on ITV in June 2007. Simon appears as a judge alongside Amanda Holden and Piers Morgan. The show was a ratings success and second and third seasons followed in 2008 and 2009. The third series featured a publicity coup when Susan Boyle made a global media impact with her regional audition performance comparable to that of any previous talent show series winner .
Local versions of the Got Talent franchise have been made in many other countries, but Simon does not appear in them.
On March 16, 2006, Simon Cowell's next competition show, American Inventor, debuted on ABC. Fledgling entrepreneurs from across the United States compete to see who can come up with the best new product concept. The 2006 winner, Janusz Liberkowski, received $1 million and the opportunity to develop his idea into a business. The show returned in 2007.
Simon also executive-produces Celebrity Duets, which can be described as "an Idol show for Hollywood superstars." The show is hosted by Wayne Brady, and its judges are Marie Osmond, Little Richard and David Foster.
Simon is also the executive producer of Grease Is the Word for ITV. This show set out to find performers to play Danny and Sandy in the 2007 West End revival of Grease. It was hosted by Zoe Ball and judged by Britons David Ian and Sinitta and Americans David Gest and Brian Friedman. The musical theatre casting concept had already been introduced by the BBC with the ratings hit How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?, but Cowell's show wasn't the hoped for success. He himself said, "It has been slaughtered by the critics - and rightly so. It is far too similar to our other formats.”
Simon collaborated with UK production company Shed Media to produce 2008 ITV drama series Rock Rivals, which is based on an X Factor type show.
Simon has been involved in charity work for many years. He supports children from The Association Of Children’s Hospices and invites them backstage to the screenings of The X Factor. When he can, he stops by some of the hospices to visit the children. He also supports animal rights and has appeared in a video for PETA in which he reminds drivers of the cruelty to animals that can occur when their pets are locked in cars in the summer.
In December 2003, Simon published his autobiography titled "I Don't Mean to be Rude, but...". In it, he told the whole story of his childhood, his years working in music and experiences on Pop Idol, Pop Stars Rivals, and American Idol, and finally, his tips for being successful as a pop star.
Simon has appeared as a guest voice in an episode of The Simpsons ("Smart and Smarter"), in which he gets beaten up by Homer Simpson (while criticising Homer's punches). His voice was also heard on an episode of Family Guy ("Lois Kills Stewie"), in which he told Stewie that his singing was so awful that he should be dead. He made an MTV Movie Award-winning cameo appearance as himself in Scary Movie 3, where he sits in judgment during a battle rap (and subsequently gets killed by gunfire for criticising the rappers). He also appears in Shrek 2 as a judge in Far Far Away Idol, and also provided the voice.
He appeared on an episode of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? (the original British version) and Saturday Night Live in 2004. Simon has also guest-starred (filling in for Regis Philbin) in the popular talk show Live with Regis and Kelly during American Idol's finalist week in early 2006. Simon was once the fastest "Star in a Reasonably Priced Car" on BBC's motoring show Top Gear, driving a Suzuki Liana around the show's test track in a time of 1:47.1. When Top Gear retired the Liana along with its rankings after the eighth series, Simon was the eighth fastest overall and the third fastest non-professional driver. On November 11, 2007 Simon yet again appeared on Top Gear, achieving a time of 1:45.9 thus putting him ahead of Gordon Ramsay and back at the top of the table. Simon introduced entertainer Dick Clark at the 2006 Primetime Emmy Awards. He was seen on Comic Relief Does The Apprentice where he donated £25,000 for a fun fair ticket. Simon has also appeared on the MTV shows Cribs and Punk'd. On Punk'd, Ryan Seacrest and Randy Jackson set him up to believe his $400,000 Rolls Royce was stolen and had caused an accident by using a nearly-identical car.
Simon was chosen as the first 'victim' of the re-launched This Is Your Life in an episode broadcast on June 2, 2007. He was presented with the Red Book by Sir Trevor McDonald while presenting American Idol.
Besides judging unknowns of the music industry, occasionally Simon comments on already-established pop icons. For example, he opined in Esquire magazine that Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful" was one of the best pop records ever made. Talking about Christina herself Simon stated "She is an unbelievable talent."
On July 1, 2007 Simon appeared alongside Randy Jackson and Ryan Seacrest as a speaker at the Concert For Diana, held at Wembley Stadium.
On August 13, 2006, Simon featured on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs in which he had to pick eight records he would take with him if he were to be stranded on a desert island. His choices can be seen here. He was also allowed to take a book and a luxury item. For his book, he elected Hollywood Wives, by Jackie Collins, and for his luxury, a mirror.
Simon Cowell was a partner in the Royal Ascot Racing Club, a Thoroughbred horse racing syndicate which owned the 2005 Epsom Derby winner, Motivator.
This Simon Cowell Biography Page is Copyright © 2004 - 2009 Chuck Ayoub