Simon Cowell is leaving American Idol.
No, really. It's official now and everything.
Simon just told reporters at the TV Critics Assocation winter press tour:
"There's been a lot of speculation [about my future], partly because we didn't have an agreement. We reached an agreement formally about half past 11 this morning. Where we have come to is that The X Factor will launch in America in 2011, with me judging the show and executive producing the show, and because of that, this will be my last season on American Idol this year."
Cowell then signed his X Factor contract live onstage at the TV event in Pasadena. So why is he leaving, who might replace him and what's this about joining forces with Paula Abdul? Here's what we just learned from Cowell himself and his bosses at Fox...
First things first, The X Factor is a British-format reality talent competition produced and developed by...Simon Cowell! There are 17 international versions. It's not unlike American Idol or its British counterpart Pop Idol, but contestants of all ages are welcome, and the judges also do some mentoring as well as just critiquing. So what kind of stars are they trying to find? Simon says, "Right now, Lady Gaga's got the biggest X factor in the world. We'd love to find somebody like her." The X Factor will air in the fall, while Idol will continue airing in the spring.
That's in Simon Cowell's future, but what about his past and present on American Idol? "I've always said this was my last year," Simon told us. "Everyone thought I was negotiating, but that wasn't the reason behind it. I felt like doing something different. I like the challenge. I want to leave Idol this year, bigger and better than it’s been before...I hope it's going to be higher than it was last year."
He says he's leaving now while the show remains on top: "I've had the best eight or nine years of my life doing this job...I never would have wanted to walk out when the show was number 21 in the ratings. I wanted to leave on a high. It's been a fantastic time.. I think right now America needs a second, different type of show, and I'm going to put my absolute heart and soul into this."
So who might take Simon's chair at the Idol judging table? Cowell's take is this: "I'm going to suggest that Ryan Seacrest does it, because he can have another job then—so he just jumps off the stage into the chair and back again...I say just get somebody who knows what they're talking about."
Fox entertainment chairman Peter Rice took a more serious approach to the question, but didn't actually profer any substantial names: "The reason we're making the announcement in January is we want to give ourselves time. We want to allow people to come forward, we were frankly surprised at the enthusiasm in replacing Paula [Abdul]—and when we we first started our conversations with Ellen DeGeneres. We have to take our time on that, we have to make sure the chemistry is as good as it can be, we want to take our time."
Speaking of Paula, it's entirely possible that Simon will ask the daffy popster to join forces with him on his new project. When asked whether or not Paula Abdul might be involved in The X Factor in some capacity, Simon said: "I adore Paula...I will work with her in some capacity...because I miss her."
For his part, Seacrest tweeted this afternoon, "this is simon's last season on idol. He's working on US version of x-factor! He is one of the most brilliant people in our biz! Congrats" and then, "i'm gonna interview simon tomorrow on the radio show...will ask him if @paulaabdul will be on x-factor. I'll link u guys audio after." (We'll be waiting!)
Meanwhile, Ellen DeGeneres addressed Simon's exit on the episode of her talk show airing Tuesday, saying, "I got some news for you. So this just happened, Simon Cowell just announced that he's leaving Idol. This will be his last season...He announced he's leaving on my first day. I'm trying not to take it personally...But seriously, I am going to be very, very sad to see him go, because I think he's made the show what it is. He's a huge part of that show, but he wanted a change...I wish him all the luck in the world hosting The Tonight Show." Nice.
So do you think Simon Cowell is replaceable? Will you watch Idol sans Simon?
(Originally published Jan. 11, 2010, at 12:44 p.m. PT)