Simon Cowell was the music mogul behind numerous hit singles and one of the creators and co-judges of the hugely successful talent show, "American Idol" (Fox, 2002-16; ABC, 2017- ). Cowell became as well-known than the stars he was creating, and his confident personality helped make "American Idol" a cultural phenomenon. Cowell evolved into a multi-media powerhouse, launching a record label as well as film and TV production companies that fueled the reality trend by creating half a dozen more international talent competitions.
Born in 1959 in Brighton, England, Cowell realized early in life that he loved making money. Whether it was washing windows or mowing lawns, Cowell could not get enough - nor could he keep it in his pocket. His father, Eric Cowell, a quality surveyor who made his money in property, always told his son to earn his own way. Cowell also learned that he was not much of a student and at age 16, he left school to forge his way in the world, working a series of menial jobs as a waiter and record shop clerk. His first real entry into entertainment came at age 17 as a runner on the set of the adventure series, "Return of the Saint." His father, who had moved on to become an executive at the record label EMI, helped secure his son a bottom rung mail room job at the company. Hard work and nepotism led to Cowell's advancement to A&R assistant and eventually a spot in the music publishing department. Cowell left EMI to launch his own publishing house, but when the ill-fated venture folded within a year, he went to work for the small pop label, Fanfare Records.
Cowell established a significant music business reputation at Fanfare, and during his eight years there, was instrumental in raising the indie label's profile with numerous top ten hits, including the smash "So Macho" by Sinitta, which hit #2 on the charts and sold over a million copies. When Fanfare ran into financial difficulties in 1989, Cowell became an A&R agent for the BMG record label. He began producing records for television shows, including "Power Rangers" (1993- ), "Teletubbies" (BBC, 1997-2001), and "WWF SmackDown!" (UPN, 1999-2006; CBS 2006-08), and also signing top pop music acts like Westlife. Now a well-known figure in the music business and respected for his hit-making abilities, Cowell became interested in the possibilities of the emerging reality TV format. With "Pop Idol" (2001-02), he and business partner Simon Fuller took the idea of a pop music talent competition one step further, allowing the audience to choose who they wanted. Cowell served as judge, jury and executioner, his cruel barbs turning the successful music exec into a television personality of the highest order. But his judgment proved impeccable, and Simon's S-Records label produced a pair of number one-selling records for the show's top two finalists. He immediately sold a substantial portion of his label to BMG, making him an instant multi-millionaire.
In the U.S., the Fox network smelled big money and invited Cowell's team to reformat the show for American audiences. "American Idol" debuted quietly as a summer replacement in 2002, but by the show's finale that fall, had become an unexpected hit, no doubt thanks to the appeal of it's "everyday" dreamers and the unexpectedly abrasive nature of the show's creator and third judge. Cowell was joined on the panel by 1990s pop star Paula Abdul and Grammy Award-winning producer Randy Jackson, and together they fulfilled good cop/bad cop duties, building up a viewing audience 20 million strong. Jibes aside, Cowell had a vested interest in finding a genuine star performer, as he signed the winner to a recording contract with his S-Records label. Season one champion was the all-American girl Kelly Clarkson, whose debut album "Thankful" sold almost four million copies and debuted at number one on the Billboard charts. Imperious and unapologetic, Cowell - with his snarky critiques, potshots at Abdul, and bickering with host Ryan Seacrest - obviously knew what he was talking about.
"Idol" returned for a second season in 2003 and Cowell parlayed his newfound TV success into a position as executive producer of the short-lived reality dating series "Cupid" (2003) for CBS. At year's end, he released a memoir entitled I Don't Mean to be Rude but while perpetuating the Simon Cowell "brand" with winking cameos on "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ), "The Simpsons" (Fox, 1989- ) and the film "Scary Movie 3" (2003). In 2004, Cowell experienced another musical success outside of his perennial "Idol" gig when Il Divo, an operatic pop group he had begun putting together several years earlier, began to experience commercial success. That same year, Cowell's Syco production company launched the international talent contest franchise "X Factor." In 2006, Cowell debuted "American Inventor" (ABC, 2006-07), and the short-lived "Celebrity Duets" (Fox, 2006), while Syco produced the British stage musical competition "Grease is the Word" (ITV, 2007). Cowell also became executive producer of the international "Got Talent" franchise.
In 2008, the seventh season of "American Idol" continued to deliver strong ratings, but Cowell announced that he would fulfill his contract through season nine before retreating to his behind-the-scenes roles in entertainment. Instead, Cowell announced that he was bringing "The X Factor" to America; the new competition debuted on Fox in the fall of 2011, with Abdul returning to Cowell's side as his fellow judge, along with label executive Antonio "L.A." Reid and Pussycat Dolls member Nicole Scherzinger, who replaced original fourth judge, U.K. Cowell protege Cheryl Cole, shortly after the audition process began. Ratings were solid, though short of Cowell's confident predictions that the show would outscore "American Idol." A reworked version of the show, with Britney Spears and Demi Lovato replacing the original female judges, was better received.
In July 2013, confirmed bachelor Cowell announced that he was expecting his first child with girlfriend Lauren Silverman, who at the time was married to one of Cowell's friends, Andrew Silverman. The Silvermans divorced shortly after the news became public.
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Started out as a mail room clerk for EMI Music Publishing
Offered a position as an A&R Consultant with BMG music
Joined forces with Simon Fuller to produce "Pop Idol" in the U.K.
Joined Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul as the panel of judges on the Fox reality talent competition "American Idol;" also produced
Executive produced the dating show "Cupid" (CBS)
Appeared as a judge on the British TV talent show "The X Factor"; left the U.K. version to concentrate on the launch of the American version of the show
Created the competition show "American Inventor" (ABC)
Announced he will be leaving Fox's "American Idol" after the upcoming ninth season to join an American version of his UK show "The X Factor" on Fox
Returned to reality television with the U.S. version of "The X Factor" (Fox), reunited with Abdul on the judging panel, along with L.A. Reid and Nicole Scherzinger