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CNN Larry King Live

Interview with Simon Cowell

Aired March 17, 2006 - 21:00   ET


SIMON COWELL, "AMERICAN IDOL": Without being rude you're one of those packages you get at Christmastime where you say can I give it back?


LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Tonight, Simon Cowell, "American Idol's" most outspoken, outrageous judge.


S. COWELL: You're like every dad who's ever got drunk at a wedding.


KING: Has he gone too far this season?


S. COWELL: You sounded like Cher. You want to do Judy Garland. And yet you don't want to wear women's clothes.


KING: What's he really think of the latest contestant booted off the show? And, what's next for him? Plus, what do you want to ask him?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Simon, comedy is not for you. I'm telling you how it is.



KING: Simon Cowell of "American Idol" for the hour with your calls next on LARRY KING LIVE.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's go. Let's do it. Let's do it. Let's make good TV. Let's go.


KING: We don't have to tell you who he is. Simon Cowell of "American Idol" is it still fun?

S. COWELL: You know I have to say I was watching all those clips back just then and I thought this is the most fun job in the world.

KING: Because?

S. COWELL: I mean because it's crazy and it's popular and it's stupid. You know it's fun. You know I'm very, very lucky. I'm 46 years old and this is what I've ended up doing for a living. I mean it's brilliant.

KING: Do you like the image of Judge Dread?


KING: You've cultivated it.

S. COWELL: Well, you know, I don't think I'm being -- I'm being that harsh funny enough. I think I'm looking at everything with a raised eyebrow, you know. I'm trying to make fun out of a nonsense situation and when it does become a little bit more serious I'm just trying to point these people in a more credible career path for themselves because, you know, we've had half a million people apply on "American Idol" over five seasons. To date, we've launched two, maybe three careers, so this is after all that TV exposure. You know it's a hard business.

KING: You were on the original in London right?

S. COWELL: Yes. Yes.

KING: Was it called "British Idol"?

S. COWELL: It was called "Pop Idol."

KING: "Pop Idol" and did the "American Idol" then bring you -- how did it work, how did this transition work for you?

S. COWELL: I came over with the other Simon involved on the show to try and set it to America even before we put it out in the U.K.

KING: It was your baby?

S. COWELL: It was mine and Simon's baby, yes, and we were sure that it could be a hit in America and we offered it to a number of networks and we got kicked out of every meeting. So, I never expected it funny enough to be on American TV.

Then we put it on in the U.K. and it was a big hit and then Rupert Murdoch's daughter Elizabeth called her dad and said, "Look, I think this show is going to be a hit." The FOX Network were already kind of interested and the show was sold and I was asked to be on the show.

And, first of all, I said yes and then I thought, oh, I don't want to go through this again. I've done it once in England. Let somebody else do it. And then I was eventually talked into it.

KING: Is there now still a British show?

S. COWELL: Not called Idol. We put another show on, another talent show called "The X-Factor" which I do with Sharon Osbourne. We put that on two years ago.

KING: So you fly back and forth?


KING: Are you the same kind of character on "The X-Factor"?

S. COWELL: Yes, pretty much so but I've got Sharon on my right this time.

KING: Why does it work?

S. COWELL: God I wish I knew. Do you know I don't know actually, it's -- it's...

KING: When you tried to sell it in America obviously you had faith in it.

S. COWELL: I sold it initially or tried to sell it initially as the great American dream, which is somebody who could be a cocktail waitress one minute, within 16 weeks could become the most famous person in America.

But I mean to answer your question why does it work I think the audition shows are probably the most important reason why it works and it is a very, very politically incorrect show and I think a lot of TV executives at the moment are being too PC.

But, you know, the kind of people I hang out with in bars and restaurants are not PC at all and I think that applies to most of America, most of the U.K. So, it stands out this show.

KING: What kind of talent are you looking for?

S. COWELL: Well, number one, someone who is going to sell records. That's what I'm always looking for because they're signed to my record label. The second thing I'm looking for...

KING: The winner gets signed to your label?


KING: That's part of the deal?

S. COWELL: That's part of the deal. That's why I do the show, yes. Yes, I wouldn't do it without it and I'm always looking for someone unique, you know, someone -- someone who's identifiable, not someone who sounds or looks like somebody else and somebody you think is going to become an international star. Luckily that's what happened with (INAUDIBLE).

KING: Now you're into other things. I want to discuss some of them, the "American Inventor."


KING: Is it on yet?

S. COWELL: Yes, it went on last night.

KING: Oh, just last night.

S. COWELL: Yes, yes.

KING: What is it's concept?

S. COWELL: It's a very, very similar concept to Idol. You know it's again it's an American dream I suppose type of show, you know, where we're finding somebody and trying to make them very famous but this time we're doing it with inventors so it's a similar...

KING: Who come forward with their inventions?

S. COWELL: Yes, normal people who've come up with an invention once in their life. They go through a very similar process as we put the singers through on "American Idol" but this time they have to come in and pitch their invention. You know it's a very simple idea.

KING: Panel of how many?

S. COWELL: Panel of four. I had no idea how it was going to do. The critics absolutely loathed this show.

KING: Really?

S. COWELL: The majority absolutely, I mean I got a taste of my own medicine this time. "This is the worst show I've ever seen in my life. This is disgusting." And, it got nearly 20 million viewers last night, you know. It was the number one show on a Thursday night, so the audience seemed to like it.

KING: What was the criticism?

S. COWELL: It's cruel. It's degrading.

KING: You mean a lot of these people are kind of whacko?

S. COWELL: One or two. You know that's what turned up and we always do this on our shows, you know. If bad people turn up, we show the audience, you know, what we had to go through.

KING: Is your goal to come up with a superior invention that might someday be a successful product? S. COWELL: Yes, yes and I think we may have found one or two because all these people they're not professionals. They're just absolutely normal people maybe working in their sheds in their homes and they've come up with these -- with these good ideas, bad ideas. Some of them have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars even lost their homes. So, they came along to the show to pitch their ideas to us and last night was one of the audition shows.

KING: It's a great concept.

S. COWELL: It's a cool concept, yes.

KING: (INAUDIBLE) and who's the host?

S. COWELL: A guy called Matt. We got three -- three Americans on the judging panel, one Brit that I call Peter who came to me with the idea initially.

KING: You didn't want to be on it?

S. COWELL: I couldn't be on it because it's on ABC.

KING: Oh and you're committed to FOX.

S. COWELL: Yes, I'm exclusive to FOX but I would have judged this show in a heartbeat.

KING: Are you an industry now? I mean like are you into -- you've got this. You package "American Idol." You pretty much own "American Idol."

S. COWELL: Well, no I don't own the show. I own the records.

KING: OK, that's a pretty good deal.

S. COWELL: It's a good deal, yes.

KING: And they pay you.

S. COWELL: Yes, they pay me, yes.

KING: OK. What else are you doing?

S. COWELL: You know I make a lot of TV shows in the U.K. I have another talent show starting on NBC this summer called "America's Got Talent" but this time we've opened up. There are no rules to this competition. If you're a magician, a singer, a dancer, a comic, dog act, anyone, any age can enter the show and the winner gets a residency in Vegas and that goes on NBC this summer.

KING: And you have this singing group now these four singers?

S. COWELL: Il Divo.

KING: Yes. S. COWELL: Well that's really my background. I mean that's how I got involved with American -- with Idol in the first place. Idol was simply a marketing tool for me to sell records. The show was one thing but it was actually my record label which was the most important thing. And, so my background is I run a record label and I still run a record label and that's really my passion.

KING: And is that label based here or in...

S. COWELL: Based in the U.K. and America and Il Divo was the last signing I made which are four classical opera singers.

KING: Who I hear is a great act.

S. COWELL: Yes, they're fantastic and their last album I think it was released about three or four weeks ago debuted at number one in America, which is difficult to do for Europeans now.

KING: We'll be right back with Simon Cowell of the hit FOX series "American Idol" and a lot more. We'll be including your calls at the bottom of the hour. We'll have some other surprises too. Don't go away.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're saying that to be rude.

S. COWELL: I'm not saying it to be rude.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's definitely Cowell's catch phrase this season.

S. COWELL: I'm not being rude. Without being rude -- I'm not being rude but you are an appallingly bad singer. I don't mean that rudely.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, of course not.

S. COWELL: Oh, gosh, where do I start? I mean I'm not being rude but you look like the Incredible Hulk's wife.




SEACREST: You know I had a dream about you last night.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't want to know.

S. COWELL: That doesn't surprise me. SEACREST: But listen he's going to try and be tough in his baby blue sweater tonight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whoa, hot color, that's a hot color man.

SEACREST: But speaking of my friend Simon why are you obsessed with what I wear/


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's at least one person.

S. COWELL: No but it's (INAUDIBLE) on creepy.


SEACREST: I definitely look up to the elderly. Kevin is my heaven, huh? Simon is my hell.


KING: And the man who said that is with us on the phone. Ryan Seacrest, the host of "American Idol."

S. COWELL: Of course.

SEACREST (by telephone): Oh, no, no. Is this for the full hour? You signed up for the full hour?


KING: We have him for the full hour and he wants to hang over and do two hours live.

S. COWELL: Oh, it doesn't surprise me. He loves the international attention right now.

KING: Ryan, why is he popular?

SEACREST: He's popular because he does something that most people are afraid to do and that is say what's on his mind. Simon that makes you feel good doesn't it?

S. COWELL: I love it.

SEACREST: Yes, he loves it.

S. COWELL: Love it.

SEACREST: I think that -- I think his honesty, his candor is something that people like to hear.

S. COWELL: Cool.

KING: And as a host is it easy for you to -- do you try to control it or just let it flow? SEACREST: Well, Simon knows exactly how to press my buttons and I believe I can press his as well. What you don't get to see, Larry, are some of the expressions, faces and gestures that Simon does just before the camera creeps over to shoot him. Simon, do you care to elaborate about that?

KING: What do you do?

S. COWELL: It's always who can have the last word basically. I mean that is the entire point of doing the show now is to make sure that one of us has the last word to embarrass the other. Of course because Ryan has got the microphone and kind of controls the show it is the...

SEACREST: I'm sorry say that again, say that again.

S. COWELL: Well controls in a small part way but, yes, controls it.

SEACREST: It is true, Larry, after a show if I get the last word he'll come to the dressing room or on the way out in the parking lot he'll say, "You know exactly when you can do that and you got the last word in and you knew that you weren't going to go back to me and that you'd win tonight."

KING: Do you ever get tired of it Ryan?

SEACREST: Oh, I'm so sick of him. I am so sick of him because...

S. COWELL: You'd miss me.

SEACREST: It's not just the show. I mean this morning Simon who did you call first thing this morning? You called your buddy Ryan. You called because you wanted to talk about your show last night.

S. COWELL: OK, so this morning is a good example.

KING: In other words, you had a problem and you called.

S. COWELL: No, no, no. I knew the ratings were good this morning, so when you're doing well one person I want to phone in the world to antagonize is Ryan who is on his way to E at that point.

KING: He now works at E too.

S. COWELL: Praying that the ratings are going to be appalling when he gets there because he can't drive there quick enough.

SEACREST: As a matter of fact, I saw his number on my caller screen and I thought this is either going to be a great call or I'm going to run off the side of the road and it seemed to go well, Larry. I wasn't happy because apparently he had some success.

But, you know, I think that he and I have this competitive relationship that allows us to feel comfortable saying what we want. Simon always says to me whenever he makes a deal he gets three copies, one copy for the attorney, one copy for himself and one copy to fax to me so I weep.

S. COWELL: That's true.

KING: Hey, Ryan, thanks a lot for being with us. I'll see you tomorrow night for the (INAUDIBLE) in San Diego.

S. COWELL: Thanks for the small part you played on the show Ryan.

SEACREST: Yes, I'll talk to you guys later. See you tomorrow, Larry, thanks.


SEACREST: Bye Simon.

KING: Ryan Seacrest he's a good guy.

S. COWELL: He's a good guy. He's a good guy and he is -- he's got one of the quick, I hate to say this because he's probably listening or he will be listening, but he's got one of the quickest minds I've ever met. He's really quick and certain people just get it. He's also got more of a kind of a European sense of humor than American.

KING: Do you have a problem with Paula Abdul?

S. COWELL: I love her.

KING: Then what are all these stories about?

S. COWELL: Well, we bicker but I don't know about you but if I'm comfortable with somebody I'll argue with them. If I hate you, I'm icily polite. So, it must mean that I like her because she is -- she annoys me. She irritates me but I couldn't do the show without her, couldn't do it.

KING: Really?

S. COWELL: No, honestly, I genuinely couldn't because when you're sitting there thinking now what am I going to say to this performance, Paula says something. You're like thank you. Now I've got something to say. It makes it because we're such polar opposites. It just works.

KING: That's part of the whole fabric of why that show works right?

S. COWELL: Yes, I mean exactly and nothing is ever planned or premeditated. I see Paula sometimes five or ten seconds before the show starts. I look at her and I think maybe this isn't going to be a great show tonight or this is going to be a fun show tonight. I just don't know what's going to happen and I kind of like that.

KING: We'll be right back with Simon Cowell. We'll take your calls at the bottom of the hour. Don't go away.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Each and every one of them are unique.

S. COWELL: Not every one.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Simon, keep your opinions to yourself with respect and I'll say what I feel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With respect to all, with respect.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think each and every one of them brings something unique...

S. COWELL: Not every one.



SEACREST: What a juxtaposition.






UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You didn't need a bigger stage but you could have got a bigger chair. Simon, a lot of people want me to say a lot of things to you but this is what I want to say to you is that, yes, you hurt me and I cried and it was painful. It really was.

But, I want you to know that I've forgiven you and that you don't need someone to apologize in order to forgive somebody. And, I figured that if Jesus could die so that all of my wrongs could be forgiven, I can certainly extend that same grace to you. So I just wanted you to know that.


S. COWELL: But at least I am humbled. Come here. Give me a kiss.



S. COWELL: Give me a kiss. I'm just so appalling. I'll tell you.



KING: Were you wrong in discussing that she was fat?

S. COWELL: Oh, yes.

KING: That was a mistake?

S. COWELL: Yes. I did what so many of us have done when someone leaves the room you make a smart ass comment.

KING: Yes.

S. COWELL: This time it's on national TV.

KING: And what about accusations about you being anti-gay?

S. COWELL: Well, we're accused of everything, you know, anti- gay, anti-fat, anti this, anti that. I think we're just anti everything, you know. I mean that's the way it goes. I mean it's just...

KING: You're anti-white.

S. COWELL: Anti-white exactly.

KING: I've heard that.

S. COWELL: Anti-host. You just treat everybody I think in the same way. It's silly to start saying that you're after one particular group. We just make fun of everybody.

KING: What about Clay Aiken and the possible lawsuits?

S. COWELL: Well I heard about this. I mean what are they saying that he...

KING: Came on with somebody.

S. COWELL: You hear all the rumors, whatever. Then you hear the lawsuits are that you pretended to be straight or something. I mean it's just crazy, you know.

KING: It don't matter to you?

S. COWELL: It doesn't matter, no. I mean what do I care?

KING: Joining us on the phone is Julie Cowell, Simon's mother. She joins us from London. She is 80 years young. Are you there Julie?

JULIE COWELL, SIMON COWELL'S MOTHER: Yes, I'm here. How are you?

KING: I am well. J. COWELL: And that's my son you've got there.

KING: Yes. How do you feel about all his fame and fortune?

J. COWELL: Oh, I didn't know he was famous in America. I hadn't got a clue had I? I'm only joking. No, I think it's great and I think it's wonderful the American people are so good with him or he's good with them. I'm not quite sure which. But anyway I think it's a great life for him over there and I think the show is doing well isn't it?

KING: Very well. What was he like as a kid?

J. COWELL: What was he like, a very strong character believe you me. I think he was about what four years of age before I began to realize he had this great sort of strength in him that he -- very positive line and he wanted to do what he wanted to do and I'd have to pitch myself against him. And I think he's had that strong character from about four years of age really, yes (INAUDIBLE) naughty things of course (INAUDIBLE) could imagine.

KING: What kind of mother was she growing up, Simon?

S. COWELL: I didn't see much of my mom when I was growing up actually.

J. COWELL: Oh, he's telling lies again. Ignore him.

S. COWELL: It's true.


S. COWELL: I knew my nanny better than I knew my mom.

KING: He knew his nanny better than you Julie?

J. COWELL: Believe you me he's just telling them honestly.

S. COWELL: I think I was eleven when I first realized you were my mum is that right?

J. COWELL: How old were you?

S. COWELL: About eleven.

J. COWELL: Oh, yes because I was never around. Haven't you told everyone I didn't cook for you?

S. COWELL: And you didn't cook for me.

J. COWELL: Tell the story you told on English television.

S. COWELL: I was 12 years old when I first realized that food could be hot. That's why I turned out the way I am.

J. COWELL: After he said that on the morning show and I was sitting watching him at home and I thought I will kill him. I will absolutely kill him.

KING: Leave your mother alone.

J. COWELL: (INAUDIBLE) believed him.

KING: Julie.

J. COWELL: Twice he said what did you eat for...

S. COWELL: Mum, mum, mum, pause. Mum, mum, pause, pause.

KING: Julie, in real life is he nasty?

J. COWELL: Not really, no. He's a very nice guy can you believe that? He really got a very kind side to him believe you me. I should know. I'm his mother. Tell you what I'm glad I can talk to him because I've been trying to get him for two weeks and he said he's very busy. I leave him messages so I know what to do now. I'll call you and you can put me through to him how about that? Is that OK Simon?

S. COWELL: I can never get through to you on the phone, mum, because you're constantly engaged.

J. COWELL: That's because everybody rings me (INAUDIBLE).

S. COWELL: That's the problem.

J. COWELL: Do you know what time it is in England?


J. COWELL: It's 2:20 -- no, 2:30 a.m. and I bet you thought I'd be in bed didn't you?

S. COWELL: I did, yes.

J. COWELL: No, I've just come back from a disco how about that at 80 years of age? Do you believe me?

S. COWELL: God, no -- yes.

J. COWELL: Good.

S. COWELL: Go back to sleep mum.

J. COWELL: Have a good time.

KING: By the way, Julie.

S. COWELL: Hang on mum.

KING: Is there one thing you can tell us about Simon that we don't know?

J. COWELL: Is there one thing? Yes, I tell you what and he'll be furious at me for telling you this. If you want to finish your show on a really good high ask him to sing. He's got a great voice. He really has and he moves so well. Ask him to do a song and a dance tonight.

S. COWELL: All right, mum.

J. COWELL: The American people will love it.

S. COWELL: Thank you.

J. COWELL: And you'll thank me for telling you (INAUDIBLE).

S. COWELL: Thank you think I'll talk to you tomorrow.

KING: Thank you Julie.

J. COWELL: I'll talk to you tomorrow Simon.


S. COWELL: Thank you.

J. COWELL: Goodbye.

KING: We could ask you to sing and I'll judge you.

S. COWELL: That wasn't my mum by the way. It was an actress. She's really asleep.

KING: She sounds like a hoot.

S. COWELL: Oh, she's hilarious. I mean my mum used to be a dancer, so I mean she's 80 this year but she looks unbelievable, incredible energy and a great sense of humor.

KING: Your dad passed away recently?

S. COWELL: About seven years ago, yes. Yes. That was tough.

KING: Were you a close family?

S. COWELL: Yes, incredibly close, yes, really close. I mean we've always -- my brothers, my sister, my mum and dad, I mean we were more like an Italian family I would say, you know. We were always very close, would do things together, so you know that was difficult for me.

KING: Are you a workaholic Simon?

S. COWELL: Yes, yes, yes I love it. I absolutely love it. I mean the day when I don't enjoy it is the day I'll stop it. I hated school but I love work.

KING: Is the record business still your number one thing?

S. COWELL: Yes, yes. KING: Despite all the television stuff?

S. COWELL: I love TV. I love being behind the scenes on a TV show but there's something about, I don't know there's something very special when you've signed an artist and that first record comes in and it's a good record. It is an indescribable feeling.

The classical boys I was telling you about and I signed the group and I put them in the studio and the first record when I heard it for the first time you'll never forget that feeling. It's incredible.

KING: Do you have to like every artist you sign?


KING: You do?

S. COWELL: Yes, yes.

KING: So you don't just sign someone because you think I don't like them but the public might like them?

S. COWELL: It's a good question. If you have to guess whether you're making TV shows or making records, then you'll get it wrong. You have to base everything on what you want to see and that way if I like it the chances are other people will hopefully like it.

KING: Our guest is Simon Cowell and after the break we'll go to your phone calls. You're watching LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.



S. COWELL: Wonderful, just what we needed Sylvester Stallone's younger sister singing Paula Abdul.





S. COWELL: We've got some really good news. The good news is today is the start of a new career.


S. COWELL: That's the good news.


S. COWELL: I'm being kind by saying that.


S. COWELL: No and I really mean it because it was just horrible.


KING: We're back with Simon Cowell. He's got the "American Inventor," "American Idol," a new show on NBC this summer, going to be called what?

COWELL: "America's Got Talent."

KING: "America's Got Talent." You've got one network left, CBS. You better do something for them.

COWELL: I'd be more than happy to.

KING: Let's go to calls. Wauconda, Illinois, hello.

CALLER: Hi, Hi, Simon.

COWELL: Hello, how are you?

CALLER: Good. Listen, I'm curious, whatever happened to the twins who left the show shortly after Hollywood week? I thought I saw them in the audience then later on. What was the deal with those two?

COWELL: The gruesome twosome.

KING: Is that who you mean, ma'am?

CALLER: Pardon me?

KING: The gruesome twosome?

CALLER: Yes, yes, those two.

COWELL: They were great, I loved having them on the show. Then we didn't heard from them, then we heard they were in jail. And then they turned up on our show a couple of weeks ago.

And then someone told me that a record label has backed them financially or something. Of course, some billionaire who they've met.

KING: That's all you know?

COWELL: That's all I know, so anything can happen.

KING: Who do you think's going to win this year?

COWELL: I think at the moment the three favorites would be Taylor, who looks like you. You know, the guy with the gray hair?

KING: Yes.

COWELL: Chris, bald guy, and Kellie Pickler, the Southern girl. KING: Does the guy that looks like me have a shot?

COWELL: Big shot.

KING: Big shot, could be a big career move for him.

COWELL: Absolutely.

KING: Wentzville, Missouri, hello.

CALLER: Hi, Larry. Hi, Simon.

COWELL: Hello, how are you?

CALLER: Hi, I wanted to ask Simon, are you as outspoken in real life as you are on the show? And in particular, in your dating relationships?

COWELL: I can be, yes. I mean, you know, the typical scenario when your girlfriend says, does this suit me? And they want you to say yes. I always speak my mind. So they come out, do I look good in this? No.

KING: Boy.

COWELL: Because I think it's better than lying.

KING: I see, but do you keep relationships that way?

COWELL: Amazingly, yes, yes. I'm surprised they stay with me. So to to answer your question, I think it's better to be direct, yes, and I get it back in return.

KING: How has fame affected you?

COWELL: Well, I was lucky, because I was 40-years-old when I first went on T.V. And because all my career, I've been guiding, you know, artists, I kind of knew the pitfalls. And I also knew what I was letting myself into. If I went on T.V., the people know who you are.

KING: So you were always in the record, but you were always happier to see someone else do well?

COWELL: Oh, yes, I was very, very happy. And I turned down, funny enough, a lot of T.V. offers I'd had. I was always being offered things on television for some reason. Documentaries, reality shows, was never interested. I was very, very happy being a record executive.

KING: Columbia, South Carolina, hello.

CALLER: Hello, hi, Simon, how are you?

COWELL: Hello, what's your name?

CALLER: Angel.

COWELL: Angel?

CALLER: Thank you. I just have a quick question. Because of the show's fixation on physical appearance being such a major role in deciding who the "American Idol" is, what advice could you give to somebody with a physical disability that would like to be on the show?

COWELL: I've got to be honest with you, I mean, we just take people on face value. I mean, I know that we're known for making fun of people and all the rest of it. But, you know, we try not to pick on anybody intentionally. But, you know, if you've got a good voice and you've got a personality, I don't think it's a problem.

KING: Are you still on the phone, dear?


KING: I was going to ask what the disability was. Shaker Heights, Ohio, hello.

CALLER: Hi, Larry, hi, Simon, how are you?

COWELL: I'm good, how are you?

CALLER: Pretty well. I have a question for you. My question is that, when you critique contestants who terrible in auditions, how do you feel basically when they mouth off and try to insult you and do terrible things, such as maybe throw water at you?

COWELL: That's a good question. What I do, actually, which you don't see on camera, is before the day starts, I go and meet the 500 or 600 we've got sitting in the ante room. And I say to them, "Look, some of you, you know the score, you may get criticized, so stand up for yourself if you disagree with what I've said or Randy says or Paula said. You're entitled to say whatever you like back to us" because I think if you're going to say something to them, you've got to expect it back in return. The water may have gone a bit too far, but I survived.

KING: Last year, a former contestant claimed he had an affair with Paula Abdul and that she gave him special treatment. Corey Clark gave the allegations in a tabloid prime time magazine show on another network. She denied it. Do you know anything about it?

COWELL: Well I mean, I know about the allegations, yes. I mean, we'd been warned about these allegations weeks before they went on air. And there was this huge kind of like rumor mill going on about what the show was going to contain. And we all sat in the office and watched it and went, so it's a 30-second answer machine message. And you built an entire show around that. I mean, it was just ridiculous, absolute rubbish. And then the guy was plugging his album, "Paula, you hurt me so much," throughout the show. It was just ridiculous.

KING: How did she handle it? COWELL: She was upset. Yes, she was upset. And she was angry. But that's what you get, you know, with certain people on the show. You know? they're bitter when they get thrown off. The career doesn't go the way they want it to go, so they invent these stories.

KING: Did you ever feel that maybe this person you turned down was better than you thought?

COWELL: Sometimes. But no major regrets.

KING: None?


KING: Do you lose sleep at night?

COWELL: No, absolutely not.

KING: We'll be right back with Simon Cowell on more of LARRY KING LIVE, don't go away.


COWELL: This was the point in the show where Stevie Wonder turns down the volume.

RANDY JACKSON, JUDGE, AMERICAN IDOL: Oh, it wasn't that bad. It waste that bad.


COWELL: It was appalling.


COWELL: It was, I'm sorry, it was. Kevin, it was.

KEVIN COVAIS, CONTESTANT, AMERICAN IDOL: That's all right, I wasn't expecting much from you anyway, so.





JACKSON: That's all you know?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, that's all I can remember.

COWELL: There are some blessings.


COWELL: All your hear is Randy laughing throughout these clips.

KING: How do you get along with Randy Jackson?

COWELL: Love Randy, one of the nicest people I've ever met in my life.

KING: Is he the stable member of the judges?

COWELL: Completely, absolutely. We wouldn't have a show without Randy Jackson. He glues it all together.

KING: New York City, hello.

CALLER: Hi, Simon.

COWELL: Hello, what's your name?

CALLER: My name's Michelle.

COWELL: Hello, Michelle.

CALLER: Hello. I think you're fabulous.

COWELL: Thank you.

CALLER: And you have given my daughter and I something to look forward to on Tuesday and Wednesday night.

COWELL: Really?

CALLER: Unfortunately, yes.

COWELL: What did you have before us?

CALLER: Not much.

COWELL: OK. I feel better.

CALLER: But we really -- we love the show. We've watched it for the last five seasons and we really look forward to watching it.

COWELL: Oh, thank you very much.

KING: What's the question?

CALLER: Well, my question is, I have to say that Simon is, usually, in my opinion, 100 percent on with his critiques of the contestants. And I wonder how much do you think your critiques sway the voters? Like tonight when you mentioned Taylor, Chris and Kellie as being the favorites. Do you think that will sway the vote in the future?

COWELL: Only if they're good. You know, when somebody's bad, it doesn't matter what you say. It's not going to make any difference. I mean, interestingly, you know, this was quite a gamble for us to say we'll allow the audience to dictate who wins the competition. And actually, every year, the audiences have got it right.

KING: You can't set it up? Can't set it up..

COWELL: I can't rig it.

KING: Can't rig it?

COWELL: No. No. Impossible. You know, and I wouldn't want to. You know, if you're going to say, look, the competition's going to be dictated by the public, you've got to allow the public to dictate it. You know, Paula and Randy got crazy sometimes, how could this person be in the bottom three? The public didn't vote for them. Accept it.

KING: Clarington, Ohio, hello.

CALLER: Hi, Simon.

COWELL: Hi. How are you?

CALLER: I'm good.


CALLER: I just wanted to know, my daughter sings, and I believe she's wonderful, of course...

COWELL: All mothers do.

CALLER: Right. What would you do as a judge to tell her to prepare to try out for "American Idol"?

COWELL: Well, personally -- how old is she?

CALLER: She just turned 17.

COWELL: Oh, God. You know, the problem with "American Idol" is, if there is a problem, is that it's like buying a lottery ticket. You know? The chances of winning it are really remote. I would actually say, get some experience, you know? Do the hard gigs. Do a tough audience. And learn how to handle a difficult audience before you walk into an audition room with us sitting there as judges.

If you happen to have that kind of experience, it's very, very tough to engage in three bored judges as we normally are on "American Idol." So that would be my advice.

My second bit of advice would be don't bother.

KING: Because?

COWELL: Because it's just -- you've got to be fantastic nowadays to do well on a show like "Idol." You know, good isn't good enough. And they're not great odds. You've got to be great.

KING: You've got to really want it.

COWELL: You've got to really want it. Get some experience.

KING: North Providence, Rhode Island, hello.

CALLER: Hello. Hi, Larry. Hi, Simon.

COWELL: Hi. How are you?

CALLER: Good. You?

COWELL: I'm very well, thank you, yes.

CALLER: I actually have two questions for you, Simon.

COWELL: Go ahead.

CALLER: Two weeks ago you said that you preferred Kellie Pickler to Carrie Underwood?


CALLER: And I personally think Carrie Underwood is a lot better. So I was wondering why you prefer her. And my second question is, what do you think of the enormous success of Kelly Clarkson?

COWELL: Well, to pick up on your first question, you know, I tend to say things very much in the heat of the moment, which normally gets me into a lot of trouble on this show.

Carrie had been on, I think, the week before, and I just really liked Kellie that night. I just thought she was a bit more feisty, a bit more energetic. So I was kind of saying what I was thinking, and then I might change my mind the following week. Which means I'm a bit of a flake.

And regarding Kelly, we're delighted, because if -- well, let's put it this way. By Kelly doing so well, it justifies this competition being on. Because we did call the show "American Idol: The Search for a Superstar," and as luck would have it, season one, we got a superstar. So it makes the competition worth winning.

KING: A note here, that a directive issued by the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, declared that all competitive activity should be positive, healthy, cheerful and have a favorable influence on the (INAUDIBLE), that's the Chinese government recently put out rules trying to put the brakes on "Idol" type competitions. And it also criticized star worship.

COWELL: Well, because it's a democracy, isn't it? You know, I mean, it's the public voting. So you can understand why they're getting slightly nervous about it. Because it wasn't our show in China, it was the laughing cow, so-and-so, so-and-so competition. And the public got to vote. And suddenly there were demos, and it was democracy. And I think the government went, we don't want this. So then they put out a stupid comment like that. You know? It's that we must control the public. Crazy.

KING: How many "Idols" are there worldwide?

COWELL: Thirty, 31, 32. A lot.

KING: We'll be right back with more of Simon Cowell on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE.

But first, let's check in with Anderson Cooper, who hosts "AC 360" at the top of the hour. What's up, Anderson?

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "AC 360": Hey, Larry. Our Nic Robertson was embedded in Operation Swarmer to find out just what's going on with the mission in Iraq. Is it really a full-scale assault and an insurgent hot spot, or is it more about pictures and public relations? We'll look at that tonight.

Plus, as students gear up and head south for spring break, there's one place where everyone's looking over their shoulder for fear of a serial killer. We'll tell you where is it and who police think is behind the murders. All that and more, Larry, at the top of the hour.

KING: Thanks, Anderson. That's "AC 360" at 10:00 Eastern.

We'll be right back with Simon Cowell right after this.


COWELL: If I'm being honest, you are more "Jerry Springer Show" than "American Idol."




COWELL: I can see you on that show doing very well. And I'm not being rude.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, Paula, what do you think?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm not Jerry Springer. I don't take my clothes off.

COWELL: I'm not (INAUDIBLE) everyone takes their clothes off.

Was I right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Actually, you were right.

COWELL: You stole my sister. No, I didn't!




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What I have here for you, and the world, is the walk buddy. The walk buddy is a safety wand for protection. This could be made especially for women.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This would ward off mountain lions, bears, and for ultrasonic sound could ward off dogs and coyotes and such.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is your invention a stick?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a wand, actually. Not a stick.


KING: That's from the "American Inventor," Simon's newest concept. It's on ABC, right?


KING: And it debuted last night.

By the way, you're on the -- you've got your hand on the pulse of pop star -- what do you make of Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, Lindsay Lohan, that group?

COWELL: I see a market for them, you know? They're all dependent upon the material they're given. They're never going to shape their future, they're always dependent upon the writers, to write a script, to write a song. You give them the right material, they're great. I think the smartest one out of all of them is Jessica.

KING: Because?

COWELL: Because I think she knew exactly what she was doing on that reality show * COWELL: ... give them the right mater, they're great. I think the smartest one out of all of them is Jessica, because I think she knew exactly what she was doing on that reality show when she said the tuna thing. You know, it was play dumb, play Marilyn Monroe, and it all worked.

KING: Vancouver, British Columbia, for Simon Cowell, hello.

CALLER: Hello, Simon?

COWELL: Hi, how are?

CALLER: It's Richard Stepp (ph) calling here.

COWELL: Hello, Richard. CALLER: I just would like to know what Simon's background is for judging people. Because, you know, I saw him on a program one night where there were three girls that sang fantastic. And all he could do is call them fat. And, you know, their talent was really great. And, you know, it just makes me wonder if he has the qualifications to do what he's doing, you know? That's all.

KING: Well he's in the record business. But speak for yourself.

COWELL: Good question. Who were the girls, by the way?

KING: He's gone now.

COWELL: Oh, he's gone? I was going to address him. You know, I have to ask myself the question when I came over here, does a Brit deserve to judge Americans? Then I thought, actually, a good voice is a good voice. But I've had over 100 No. 1 records. I've sold over 200 million records. So based on the success of that, I probably am qualified. But it's a subjective business.

KING: Vernon, British Columbia, hello.

CALLER: Hi, Larry and I have a question for Simon.

KING: Sure, go ahead.

CALLER: Hi, Simon, this is Dennis. Question for you.

COWELL: Hi, Dennis.

CALLER: A question for you, regarding calling into the 800 number. Have you thought of the possibility of voting for multiple contestants with one phone call? So that we don't lose people like Gedeon McKinney?

COWELL: You know what? Whatever happens, when you lose somebody you don't like, I get asked these questions a lot. I honestly think this is the fairest way of doing it. I can't think of a fairer way of doing a talent competition. Because at the end of the day, the person with the least votes will get booted out. And if you vote for the person you like, they'll stay in. I don't think there's a fairer way of doing it.

KING: Do you often disagree with the callers?

COWELL: Very, rarely.

KING: Really?

COWELL: Yes, very, rarely. The ones who go at this stage, you know what, it just doesn't matter because they're never going to win. It's only in the final three that it makes a difference.

KING: And you were telling me during a break that the auditions are a key to that show.

COWELL: Oh, for sure.

KING: If you just presented 12 finalists, it wouldn't work?

COWELL: Wouldn't work. I mean, you know, the auditions, I think, for me, are the most entertaining part of the show, which makes the show unique. The middle stage gives the audience a chance to connect with the contestants. And then by the time you've got the 12, you already know them on first-name terms. It's a good system.

KING: Port Jefferson, New York, hello.

CALLER: Hi, Simon. I want to say that I love "American Idol." I think it's a great show. It's great because it's wholesome and kids are able to watch it with their parents and there's nothing vulgar going on. I just wanted to thank you for bringing this to us and making this a show, because I think it is very good.

COWELL: Thank you.

CALLER: You're welcome. We need more shows like that. But my question is that, since you are such an outspoken man, I wonder what quality it is that you appreciate most about a person?

COWELL: I like people who are honest. I don't like people who are hypocritical, who pretend to be nice, particularly in show business when they're nice on camera, and then off camera they're absolutely appalling to the makeup people, or the waitress in a restaurant, you know? I don't like -- I can't bear those kind of people. So I like people who are, you know, up front in your face.

KING: Straight.

COWELL: Straight, yes, I like straight people, yes.

KING: We'll be right back with our remaining moments with Simon Cowell of "American Idol," and a whole bunch of other things. Don't go away.


COWELL: I've got to talk about this Jessica Simpson hair style. I mean, seriously, that has got to go.




COWELL: Kellie, everything went wrong tonight, in my opinion. And I'll tell you why. First of all, you would have sent half of America to sleep with that performance. It was so boring and it felt like it was never going to end. It was completely outside of your comfort zone. Plus, it's like you've gone to Dolly Parton school the way you look tonight. You know?



KING: You have fun doing that, though, right?

COWELL: Yes, yes.

KING: Last season's "Idol" Carrie Underwood is up for two CMA Awards. She's nominated for top female vocalist and best new female vocalist. What do you think of her?

COWELL: I like her, I like her. She is what she says -- in other words, what you see is what you get. You know? I always thought she was going to be a successful country artist. Does it very well, easy artist to sell.

KING: Does a country artist have a fair shake against a pop artist?

COWELL: Yes, I think you've got to try and amalgamate the two. You know, I think the perfect kind of record for Carrie is a country/pop record. You don't want her singing about dogs for the rest of her life. It's that -- they've got to be pop records as well. But the influence is country, yes.

KING: Will all the winners do well?

COWELL: No, no. It's not a guarantee. I mean, we'll give the winner the best shot in the world in terms of a launch pad. I don't think there is a better shot.

KING: You've got a record contract.

COWELL: You've got a record contract. But you've got to have the right material. You've got to connect with the record-buying audience. It's not a guarantee. But it's about the best dodge you'll ever get in this business, that you've got a job.

KING: And again, you have never disagreed with the public's selection?

COWELL: No, not on four seasons of "American Idol." I think they got it right every year, yes.

KING: That's amazing to me because you are so critical and so on top of things. You would think that you would be disagreement with them.

COWELL: Well funny enough, Larry, I've always put my career -- I've always trusted the public. I trust the public more than I do critics. You know, when we make a record, when we make a T.V. show, I'm not doing it necessarily to appease record critics. Otherwise, I'd never sell any records. I always try and sell to the public, because I trust the public's taste. So it felt right to do the same thing on a show like "American Idol." And they have, they got it right every year. KING: Always great seeing you, Simon.

COWELL: Yes, and thank you for having me on, I've enjoyed that, thank you.

KING: Continued good luck.

COWELL: And to you.

KING: Simon Cowell. Finally tonight, just in time for St. Patrick's Day, there's a must-read new book called "Lord of the Dance: My Story," by Michael Flatley, the creator of Riverdance. From Irish immigrant, Chicago boxing champ, to having his feet insured for $40 million, to a 2003 rape charge, he covers it all in this new book, what a story.

And to you, a very happy St. Patty's Day. And we wish the same to Anderson Cooper, but first, let us remind you we'll be in New York next week and among the guests will be Walter Cronkite, Don Imus and Mike Wallace. And one week from tonight, we'll be in Washington with a very special guest we'll announce on Monday.

And now a very happy St. Patrick's Day to my friend Anderson Cooper, who will host "A.C." and is not in green. He's -- oh, Anderson.

COOPER: I don't have anything green, I have a limited wardrobe budget, you know that.

KING: No tie in green?

COOPER: I don't have a green tie, I'll get one. I'll get one, I'll wear it next week.

KING: "A.C. 360" is next. Go.