Reality Rocks

Simon Cowell Talks Britney-Free, Feud-Free New ‘X Factor’

Lyndsey Parker
Reality Rocks

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photo courtesy of Fox

There's this extremely annoying idea lately that women with strong personalities just can't get along on the same reality TV show. The airwaves are positively clogged with lowest-common-denominator programs starring women behaving badly: "Bad Girls' Club," "Real Housewives," "Mob Wives," "Basketball Wives," "Baseball Wives," "Football Wives," whatever Wives. This stereotype was unfortunately perpetuated by "American Idol" this year, when catty judges Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj spent all of Season 12 at each other's throats. But as Simon Cowell prepares to launch the third season of "The X Factor" with three feisty, opinionated female judges — Demi Lovato, Kelly Rowland, and Paulina Rubio — he assures viewers that the show will boast plenty of girl-powered good vibes.

"If this season's judges hadn't gotten along well, I would've changed them. But they just happen to like each other," he insists, admitting that this year's "Idol" backlash definitely influenced him when it came time to cast his own show. "I think it was quite clear that the ['Idol'] audience was just not enjoying [the Nicki and Mariah feud]. Those days of squawking judges, I think they're over. I think judges can disagree, but if it's uncomfortable to watch, people just won't watch it."

Simon adds with a chuckle, "This idea that some poor contestant is standing there waiting for his or her big chance, and you've got a bunch of millionaire judges squawking at each other…I mean, it's actually ridiculous, if you think about it."

There's one female millionaire judge who's conspicuously absent from the "X Factor" panel this season: Britney Spears, who was paid an astonishing $15 million to "judge" Season 2 but hardly did any talking at all, let alone any squawking. The hiring of Britney at the time may have seemed like a bold competitive move, in an up-the-ante television era dominated by A-list judges like "Idol's" Jennifer Lopez and Mariah Carey and "The Voice's" Christina Aguilera. But Britney turned out to be such an ineffective, borderline-mute judge, if she'd gotten paid by word, she would've earned about half a mill per syllable, total. (And that word, by the way, would have been "amazing." Britney had no other adjectives in her arsenal.)

In retrospect, Simon seems to realize that hiring Britney just for her fame and name wasn't the wisest decision. "It all became a bit of a pissing match, if I'm being honest with you: Who could hire the biggest celebrity?" he admits. "But I think that we have to be concerned with why these celebrities want to do these shows — because if they don't care about the contestants and they don't focus on the contestants, then we've got a big problem…It's about how much does that person actually want to do the job they're being paid for?"

However, Simon has faith in his new cast of outspoken ladies — all of whom, it should be noted, only earn $4.5 combined. (Returning judge Demi got a raise from $1 million to $2 million this season, while Kelly and Paulina were hired for $1 million and $1.5 million, respectively.)

"Demi was always very committed to finding new talent. Kelly I've worked with on the U.K. 'X Factor,' and she did a brilliant job on that show. And then when I met Paulina, we really clicked. With them, it wasn't 'how much are you going to pay me?' It was basically how much they were looking forward to finding a star. They were very interested in how well the contestants have done on ['The X Factor U.K.'], and that seemed to be their main motive. And that was the reason why we hired them."

Will Season 3 of "The X Factor USA" prove that a singing show doesn't need petty drama or overpaid, stunt-casted celebrity judges to be a success — and that women can get along just swimmingly? Find out Wednesday night, when the show premieres on Fox.

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