Simon Cowell's upcoming reality singing competition, "The X Factor," and his old show, "American Idol," might seem nearly identical on the surface, but there are actually five million ways to differentiate the new project from the one he left behind: The sardonic British judge revealed on the official "The X Factor" website that the winner of the show's inaugural season will walk away with a Sony recording contract worth a cool $5 million. That sum represents the largest guaranteed prize in television history, so there's a lot more on the line here than a flimsy deal in the ailing music industry.
"I believe that America has the best talent in the world. I believe that with all my heart," Cowell said of "The X Factor," which debuts stateside in September 2011 (it has run in the U.K. since 2004). "If you win this competition -- I'm going to put my money where my mouth is -- it's a $5 million recording contract. That means the winner walks away with $5 million, guaranteed. Win this competition, it will change your life forever." Start flexing your vocal cords, because "The X Factor" auditions kick off in New York, Miami, Dallas, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Seattle in March.
If the past few years of "American Idol" have proven anything, it's that winning the competition doesn't guarantee success: For every chart-topping champ like Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson, there are even more "Idol" winners -- like David Cook, Taylor Hicks, Kris Allen, and most recently Lee DeWyze -- who haven't set the music world on fire. According to the New York Times, "Idol" finalists stand to earn about $1 million in the year following their season. However, considering that many "Idol" finalists fail to experience any sort of longevity, it's unlikely that most "Idol" winners would pocket $5 million in their career, making "X Factor" all the more enticing if you're a stargazing singer. "America's Got Talent" offers victors a $1 million prize, issued as an annuity, and "Survivor" also awards its "sole Survivor" $1 million, however most reality competitions -- like "Top Chef" and "Project Runway" -- give away between $100,000 and $250,000 in prizes.
The $5 million prize isn't the only difference between "X Factor" and "Idol": Whereas "Idol" pits one singer against another, "X Factor" will have a variety of acts, like solo artists and vocal groups, battling it out against one another. "Idol" requires that its contestants be between the ages of 15 and 28, while "X Factor" opens up the field to allow anyone from 12 to 112 years old. British sensation Susan Boyle, who has enjoyed more success than any "Idol" finalist from the past five seasons, could hypothetically audition for "X Factor" but not "Idol," so the talent pool -- and the chance to score that $5 million prize -- is wide open.
- American Idol
- The X Factor