May 22, 2012

An Interview with Simon Cowell

When I talk on the phone, I try to speak like an overly polite secretary from Mad Men.  I speak calmly and quietly while pacing aggressively.
Interviewing is a lot easier on the phone. Simon did not get to see how terrified I was. He didn’t even know that I was silently squealing the entire time. Another great thing about interviewing someone on the phone is that long pauses are okay. I could smile with my braces without being self-conscious because no one could see me.
Simon Cowell is very smart, and thoughtful and everything I said made me feel like I did not know how to speak English correctly.
“Maude, how are you?
I’m so good, thank you.

“I’ve been looking forward to this, Maude.”
Oh! I’m so excited.

“I hear you’re very good.
Oh, hopefully.

“We’re going to find out, Maude.”
Okay, so I know you grew up with your dad working in the music industry.  Did you learn anything from him that helped you pursue this? Did he influence you in any way?

“That’s a good question actually because moms and dads are important, you know, in what you do in life. And with my dad, he was actually a very humble man, so I probably take after my mum. But he taught me a very valuable lesson when I was about 12 years old.  He was chatting about people who worked for him and he said, ‘Simon, everyone around you has an invisible sign on their head and it says “make me feel important”.’  I never forgot that.  As I got older, I was aware that when you work on a big show or when you work for a record label, you have a lot of people around you who do a lot of hard work.  You have to acknowledge what they’ve done. He also taught me though that you have to be your own boss. That was very important.”

Now that the rules have changed about who can audition for X Factor (like repped talent and groups), how do you think this will affect the show?

“I try where I can to take away as many rules as possible because, in general, I’m not a fan of rules. I think they’re boring. And if you introduce more rules then you’ve got to introduce even more rules. We’re kind of the opposite, we try to take away as many as possible. And one of the things that bugged me was that we couldn’t have people who had management contracts.  It sounded crazy because when you run a record label, most of the artist that you want to sign have managers. So I just thought the chances are that we should find better people [without the rules about representation]… If they’ve got representation, they’re probably quite good.  It just makes the show more open.  I’m always confident that there’s one person out there, Maude. You know?”
I know the youngest you can be to audition is 12 years old.  Do you ever think that’s too young? That this is too intense for them?

“I think it’s too old.

“I’ve seen 13 and 14-year-olds… they terrify me nowadays. I mean, you look to Astro…. When he first auditioned, he was 14 and he made me feel about 11.  They’re like a new generation, these kids who audition now. A lot of them have watched these shows before and they’ve grown up on YouTube and Twitter and Facebook and they know much more about the music business than I do.  Like I do with the adults, if I think they’re too nervous for this, I’ll say to them that this isn’t the right time. So they’re kind of screened before they meet me. I was really impressed with the young teenagers on the show last year. I thought they were brilliant.”

Yeah.  Rachel – that’s so amazing that she sang at the White House.  That’s so cool.
“That’s unbelievable. I mean, this girl is 14 going on about 75. She’s got so much confidence. And to do what she did the other day… I could see that she was nervous but she pulled it out. I was really impressed with her.”
Okay, back to social networking and social media – do you think that’s changed the competition and how people respond to the show? How has it affected the show?
Again, that’s a very good question.  When I was making these shows ten years ago, you had to sit and wait for the review which could come 48 hours later in a newspaper.  You didn’t know what people were really feeling about the show. When we watch the show now, within about two minutes we know whether we’ve got this show right or wrong. You’ve got this instant feedback.  When I’m watching the show back, I’m watching the Twitter feeds simultaneously and it’s fascinating to see how people respond, whether they like something, they don’t like something.  So it’s like you’ve got millions of people who sort of produce the show with you now.  Because most of what we read about, we incorporate into the show the following week. If they particularly hate something, we’ll drop it. If they particularly like something, we’ll do more of it.  I think if you’re up for criticism and you can handle it, I think it’s the best thing in the world. I really, genuinely do. It’s a much more exciting time to be making shows now than it was ten years ago.”
Do you have any advice for people who want to audition?
“Do you know that I actually think that you shouldn’t ask questions when you audition? I think that all the smart artists that I’ve ever met in my life genuinely know why there is a gap in the market for them, why they are going to be successful and the kind of record they want to make. Those are the really successful artists I’ve met. So when you go to an audition, you’ve got to do your research.  You’ve got to work out why there’s a gap in the market for you and why you’re better than other people because that’s all that record companies want. They want to find something new and hopefully original. And if they do their homework and their research properly now, particularly on You Tube, there’s so many examples of people doing it well.  And I think you’ve got to come in with a lot of confidence.  I don’t mind people who come in with a lot of attitude either, I kind of like that.
What would you say about groups auditioning because they’re usually formed on the show? Do you think that will change relationships backstage?  How do you think that will affect the whole chemistry of the show?
“Well, one of the reasons I left American Idol to go on X Factor was I actually prefer auditioning groups more than solo artists. I think they’re more fun. And I’ve worked with a lot of groups over the years and sold a lot of records. So I was always amazed that there weren’t more groups in the charts over the last few years. But I think One Direction is really important because it’s proven that obviously there’s a gap in the market for a group. And actually the way that you form a group is quite simple. The best groups are normally the ones that are formed as friends deciding they want to be in a group. If they haven’t had months of preparation, they just have to learn a couple of songs and show that they’ve got chemistry and they’re different, and that they’ve got that kind star quality… but you can be a duo, you can be three people, you can be in a family. I mean there are tons of variations. Or you can school choir, you know that counts as a group. But I think like I said off the back of One Direction, you’re going to see a big, big change in the show this year.
How do you feel about One Direction doing so well and selling out concerts?  What do you attribute to their success?  What did you think when you first saw them? How did you know that they were meant to be together?

“Well it was genuine horror that we couldn’t put these guys through as solo artists because they screwed up something in their middle audition but I felt bad about them leaving. So we took a chance and we got these five guys back who we liked.  We said, ‘Look, we think you would do better as a group rather than solo artists because you failed the middle round through bad song selection or nerves … whatever it was’ – But as they stood there for the first time, you know I had a weird feeling thinking, ‘You know what? If this works, they’re going to be huge.’ I could sense it.  And then when they did another audition for me, five or six weeks later, they were absolutely brilliant.  When we made the record, we made it in partnership with them … we listened to everything they liked. We threw away what they didn’t like. And then it was literally fan power that made them who they are today. It wasn’t a big marketing campaign or promotion campaign; it was all word of mouth.  I put all of the success down to them and, like I said, fan power.  It’s just showing how the record business is changing in a really positive way, and if you trust your group and they’ve got talent and you trust the fans … it will work. It is a very, very different way than how it used to be.”
I’ve been a fan since X Factor … and we just saw them recently at Saturday Night Live and I was so excited. In the US, I think they really did just become famous basically overnight. It was amazing how their fan base grew so quickly.

And you know what? … There’s something exciting about a band. I don’t know what it is. When you’ve got more than one… everything gets bigger. The excitement gets bigger.  I think they’re a really good example of what is going to happen in America because genuinely most of the reason why this group has succeeded came down to them… they’ve got good taste, they really respect their fans, they talk to their fans as friends and they’ve become friends themselves.  The best advice I gave them was to never forget your fans, and most importantly, you’ve got to have fun.  You’ve got to enjoy the process. It’s when you stop having fun that it’s over.  We talk with them all the time … and they really are having a great time and they genuinely respect and appreciate what the fans have done for them. And I don’t think they’ll ever forget that.”
One last question. Do you think you’ll ever want to host a more traditional interview show like Piers Morgan?
“I’ll tell you what. I think you should.”
Thank you.

“I’m not kidding.  I’ll tell you why I say that. I don’t know you but I can tell you are a fan of what you’re talking about.  I think that’s where I really genuinely mean this… I think there’s going to be massive gaps in the market going forward… the hosting roles and judging roles are going to be people who are genuinely fans of music and what they’re seeing.  You can pay a lot of people to do the job, but if they’re not really into it… .  You’re going to see what’s going to happen on X Factor this year with how we’re changing the judging panel and with what we’re going to do with the hosts because I really want people on the show who know more than I do because they come from a different background and have different experiences.  We have to change things up quite a lot.  I’m probably going to be interviewed by you in the future on TV.  I’ve got a feeling.”
Thank you so much! Thank you for talking to me. 

“No, I like you.
I’m so excited. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

“No, thank you, sweetheart. It’s been an absolute pleasure.”
It’s nice to talk to you.

“Alright, darling, take care of yourself.

“Bye, Maude.”
Simon Cowell is the nicest person I have ever spoken to.


  1. Reading that transcript made me smile - he sounds like a nice guy but damn it, you held your own! Good questions, Maude! :D

  2. How is there only one comment on this??? You're so amazing Maude and I've always loved Simon. His views are dead on.

  3. Maude, you are the sweetest, most badass little thing, Simon is so right, you have big things in store!!! Really enjoy your wit, genuineness, and astute insight. You have such wonderful energy I can feel it through the screen! Keep writing!!!

  4. What a total sweetheart!! You should host shows, I'd watch x

  5. I have a 7 year old daughter.

    What I want is for the people who advise her to be genuine. I hope that she turns to great learned people from all walks of her balanced life- including some in the entertainment industry. Good theatre, film and music bring such joy to life.

    I'm glad there are people like you out there for her.

  6. Wow, that's so neat! It's like Simon's always had to put on this stiff, snobby persona for the show, and he was actually real with you over the interview. :)