You can hear it in Simon Cowell's voice. At long last, he's excited again.
In fact, on a conference call with reporters Monday, the famously acerbic former American Idol judge seemed to burst with enthusiasm -- for him -- as he outlined the new details announced for his fall talent show on Fox, The X Factor.
First comes the show's prize, a $5 million bankroll Fox says is the largest single prize in TV game show history. Cowell, as the show's executive producer and format owner, insists the amount is not cobbled together from marketing budgets or video production expenses; winners gets this sum, paid in cash over five years, to ensure their star status.
Next, there's auditions, before a live audience, starting March 27 in Los Angeles and traveling to four other cities including Miami, which Idol famously passed over this year.
And there's the age limit for contestants, which starts at age 12 and goes up without limit. In Britain, that meant then 48-year-old singer Susan Boyle could stun the audience at Britain's Got Talent with a voice that belied her dowdy look and eventually sold millions.
"Susan Boyle taught me a huge lesson," said Cowell, who also owns, produces, and stars in Britain's Got Talent overseas. "I have to be more open-minded. If you've got it, you've got it no matter what your age."
On past conference calls about Idol, Cowell could seem distant and distracted. But on Monday, he was engaged and seemingly energized by his simple, yet momentous challenge; finding a worldwide pop star while broadcasting a popular TV show in television's most competitive arena, network television.
"Sometimes you've gotta put your money where your mouth is," said Cowell, featured in two ads during Fox's record-breaking Super Bowl broadcast Sunday. "It's a massive, massive risk. But it's also an incredible incentive. It puts everyone, rightly, under a tremendous amount of pressure to find a star."
He won't say who he's considering to join him as a judge in the new show -- continuing the cat-and-mouse game with fellow former Idol judge Paula Abdul by saying they were friends "80 percent of the time" on that show, while refusing to dish on whether she might join him on X Factor.
But the job requires more commitment than Idol, because judges eventually help contestants compete by mentoring them directly on song choices, look, and presentation.
"I got bored of just judging," Cowell said. "It really does become incredibly competitive between the judges; in a way, even more competitive than between the artists, because we don't pretend to like each other."
Cowell also wouldn't dish on what he thinks of the new American Idol, saying he'd only seen a few minutes of one episode from this season. Predictably, his only reaction was a bit self-centered; relief that the show's continuing ratings proved American viewers still want to watch a singer get famous on national television.
"What I was more concerned about was the [Idol] ratings falling off a cliff, meaning the whole genre is over," he said. "It kinda feels we've come out of this gray period [in the music business] into a very fun, extreme time."
Later, Cowell stated the challenge simply: "If we don't, with what I've put [up as a prize], find a global star, I think we've failed."
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