It was a scene to warm the heart of many an unlucky "American Idol" contestant. Simon Cowell, the British judge whose scathing criticisms of aspiring performers on the Fox talent series have made him a pop culture icon, was on the hot seat, flubbing his lines.
Actually, it was a cold seat Cowell was sitting on -- the edge of an ornate pool in the massive backyard of a Beverly Hills villa. Wearing his trademark tight T-shirt and jeans, Cowell faced a camera crew as he taped a brief introduction to link segments for his first major post-"Idol" American project, "Cupid." The show premieres Wednesday.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday July 12, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 47 words Type of Material: Correction
Producer credits -- A July 7 article about Simon Cowell noted that he and Ken Warwick were executive producers of the new CBS dating show "Cupid." The article didn't mention the third executive producer, Craig Piligian, or that "Cupid" is produced in association with FremantleMedia North America.
Cowell originated the concept and is one of the executive producers of the CBS series -- the latest in a stream of so-called reality series revolving around dating such as "The Bachelor," "Joe Millionaire" and "For Love or Money."
"Welcome back to 'Cupid,' " Cowell said in an inviting tone. "We're hitting the road now, and our first stop is Chicago ..."
"I need you to do that again, a little less rushed," interrupted Ken Warwick, who watched nearby. Warwick is another of the show's executive producers and a producer on "American Idol." Cowell tried again, but Warwick still wanted more: "Now do it again with that energy, but a little less rushed." Always smiling, Cowell patiently did take after take of the short intro.
True, Warwick's gentle prodding and tone were worlds away from the sharpness of Cowell's snarl. And Cowell's smoothness and comfort in front of the camera overcame his temporary stumbles. Minutes later, he and Warwick were pleased with his performance.
Still, Cowell is more than aware that the tables are about to be turned on him with "Cupid" and that he will be the one on the line this time around instead of a sweating amateur singer seeking acceptance and fame.
If he is concerned or nervous about ratings or the critical brickbats that may come his way, the 43-year-old Cowell isn't letting it cloud his characteristic cool. Even during a jampacked day of frantic filming, Cowell is the essence of calm, easily puffing on a cigarette during a brief break.
"I'm quite sure this show will work," said Cowell, who, in addition to his "Cupid" duties, is participating in a new edition of "Pop Idol," the British parent of "American Idol." He doesn't seem concerned that critics will be gunning for him on this venture. "There might be harsh criticism, but if it's deserved, then there should be. It doesn't matter, though. I see it as the critics being on one side and the audience on the other side, and I believe the audience will respond to this."
As has become part of "Idol" lore, Cowell was a long-established hitmaker in the U.K. before American TV audiences were introduced to his tart tongue. The London-born Cowell, whose father was a music executive, has spent the last two decades-plus working in talent development at a number of British labels and had particular success with the so-called boy bands that were the rage in the '90s. It was while dealing with bands such as Westlife and Five, which were huge in Europe though largely unheard of here, that he started working closely with Simon Fuller, mastermind of "Pop Idol" and its spinoff, "American Idol."
But now Cowell, who recently sold his 50% share in the S Records label to partner BMG for a considerable amount of money, is focused on "Cupid" being the first of several television projects he wants to produce in the United States. The slate would include a mix of scripted and unscripted series.
"I desperately want to build a production company that will expand on my record company," he said. "People always try to predict what the audience is going to want to see. When everyone else is going right, that's the time I know to go left. I do like good reality TV, but there comes a time when you have to go the other way."
Cowell realizes all too well that his celebrity status with "American Idol" -- fueled by his irresistible combination of arrogance-free smugness and charm -- has given him valuable clout to accomplish his goal. In commercials and in print ads for "Cupid," he's the one out in front, instead of the cast.
"It's very simple," Cowell said. "One of the best things about 'American Idol' is that it's opened doors that just were not open before. It's not about the limos or the autographs. I'm using my notoriety to be given a chance to be taken seriously. Within the next 48 months, I fully expect to have two or three shows on the air. Definitely."
Despite Cowell's limited television experience, CBS executives were instantly impressed by his savvy.