At the very first audition of “American Idol”, fellow judge Paula Abdul got her first taste of what it was like to work with Cowell. Following a terrible performance by a young contestant, Cowell responded with one of his trademark criticisms. “My jaw literally – like a cartoon – must have hit the table,” recalls Abdul. She proceeded to tell Cowell that he could not talk to people that way. Cowell responded that indeed he could. Abdul countered, saying he could not talk to Americans that way. Cowell said that he could and he would and the conversation abruptly came to an end.
“I think you have to judge everything based on your personal taste,” says Cowell. “And if that means being critical, so be it. I hate political correctness. I absolutely loathe it.” It is this attitude that has caused Cowell to come under attack by colleagues, the media and the public alike. Unafraid of speaking his mind and willing to suffer whatever consequences might arise as a result, Cowell has gotten to where he is in the industry due to his refusal to compromise.
When he was once asked whether he considered himself a music man or an entrepreneur, Cowell responded, “An entrepreneur. I’ve always treated the music business as a business. Whether I’m making TV shows or signing artists, you have to do it by the head and not the heart – and I run my businesses that way.”
Cowell is all business. He refuses to back down in the face of criticism and opposition and does not let personal feelings get in the way of his work. Fellow “American Idol” judge Randy Jackson recalls one time after Cowell had made particularly harsh comments towards a contestant, family members of that rejected contestant were waiting for Cowell with baseball bats, ready to beat him up. In typical Cowell fashion, he just laughed it off and used a different exit. It was not going to change anything for him.
Even the comments that Cowell has come to be both loved and hated for were once the object of criticism themselves. One morning, a group of producers for “American Idol” handed Cowell a written script of biting put-downs for him to use on the following shows. Cowell told them that his remarks were all his own and he refused to look at their script.
The ability to stand firm in one’s beliefs is a characteristic Cowell would like to see more of in others, believing that it is one of the key ingredients necessary for success. Before every audition, Cowell talks to all of the would-be singers and encourages them to stand up for themselves. No matter how critical he may be towards them, Cowell would rather have the contestants argue with him than just walk out of the room. He knows that anyone who is willing to back down in the face of a challenge will never make it in the cutthroat music industry.
“If you’ve got a big mouth and you’re controversial, you’re going to get attention,” says Cowell. The test of success then comes with whether or not you are capable of not only staying strong in the face of that attention, but thriving in it as Cowell does time and time again.