Earlier today I had the extreme privilege of speaking to the most powerful man in the recording industry and one of the most accomplished and successful producers of the modern era, Simon Cowell, about his new reality competition show beginning in the US this September, THE X FACTOR, as well as his thoughts on Broadway in general, Sondheim, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Harry Connick, Jr. and much more. Though our time was expectedly limited given his impossibly busy schedule, Simon was kind enough to open up and talk about what aspects of musical theatre work in pop music and which do not and that good performances know no bounds, as well as elaborate on his past "too Broadway" and "too cabaret" AMERICAN IDOL criticisms and also share what his favorite movie musical is, among many other illustrative and interesting comments. Plus, will Mariah Carey be co-judging X FACTOR after all?
Auditions for THE X FACTOR are set to begin on Sunday, March 27 in Los Angeles at the L.A. Sports Arena. The search for the next global superstar will continue in Miami, FL, on Thursday, April 7; Newark, NJ, on Thursday, April 14; Seattle, WA, on Wednesday, April 20; Chicago, IL, on Wednesday, April 27; and Dallas, TX, on Thursday, May 26.
THE X FACOTR is searching for undiscovered talent 12 years old or over - both solo artists and vocal groups - who are willing to brave the panel for a chance to win a $5 million recording contract with Syco/Sony Music. Interested solo artists and vocal groups should sign up now for audition information at www.fox.com/theXfactor or call toll-free 855-345-5678
PC: What an extreme honor it is to be speaking to you today, Simon.
SC: Hey, Pat. How are you today?
PC: I am absolutely fabulous now! Thank you so much for speaking to me at the number one theatre site on the internet.
SC: Oh, I know you and your site! I just love it. I've been reading you, Pat, so I'm very happy to be talking to you today.
PC: Since today is Stephen Sondheim's birthday and I don't believe we've heard you comment on him in the press, what do you think of him and his work?
SC: Well, I've got to be honest with you: I actually did go to one of his musicals once - I'm not sure which one it was - and it was the most boring thing I ever heard in my life! (Laughs). I just remember that at one point they started screaming at each other - and there was not an awful lot of a set, either - and I thought, "I'm not sure I can deal with this!"
PC: Sounds like it could be PASSION?
SC: Could be! I can't remember which one it was.
PC: Every show isn't for everybody, after all.
SC: Yeah, so maybe I just didn't go to one of his better ones!
PC: SWEENEY TODD is the one to see, I think.
SC: I'll have to give that a shot. Sondheim, too.
PC: Since it is also Andrew Lloyd Webber's birthday today, let me ask what you think of him?
SC: Oh, well, that's an easy one. Andrew is a good friend of mine and I think he is really talented. And, what I like about Andrew is that he is incredibly competitive - especially now.
PC: Especially in recent years.
SC: Right. So, I think that's probably why he's done so well - because he wants to be number one all the time. And I kind of like that!
PC: As I'd expect you to! Have you seen his new WIZARD OF OZ yet? I just interviewed Sir Tim Rice about it for this column.
SC: No. I've heard it's good, though.
PC: It is rumored that he will be doing a Dorothy reality casting show in the US next year for THE WIZARD OF OZ, what do you think of Lloyd Webber encroaching on your territory in the US, too?
SC: Well, he's not better looking than me, so I don't mind what he does! (Laughs.)
PC: That is hilarious.
SC: That's why he's always welcome on my shows! (Laughs.)
PC: Having grown up in the UK, what do you think of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR revolutionizing the way theatre uses pop music - and, inversely, how pop music uses theatre?
SC: Well, you know, he is a brave guy - so is Tim. Not many people would do something like that. Andrew is super intelligent and very commercial. The guy doesn't mind taking risks. And, I think he's probably still underrated for what a great writer he really is - because, as you said, he has a fantastic catalogue of songs.
PC: Totally. EVITA is one of the finest stage scores.
PC: Would you consider having Lloyd Webber as a guest judge on X FACTOR like you did on AMERICAN IDOL in Season 7?
SC: (Deadpan.) Well, like I said, for all the reasons mentioned before - always welcome. (Laughs.)
PC: Can you confirm Mariah Carey as a judge on X FACTOR?
SC: She can't do it now because she is pregnant, but we think we may have a role for her on the live shows - which she is excited about and I am excited about. And, I adore Mariah - I spent a couple of hours with her a week or so ago. She is always great company because, again - like Andrew - she is ambitious and she wants to be on this show. I am happy to find a role for her on X FACTOR.
PC: She is rumored to be doing a Broadway Christmas show. Do you think it's time for Mariah to take on Broadway?
SC: Yeah. One hundred percent. I mean, I've always been a massive fan of hers as an artist, and, now, I've gotten to know her well. She's a great person - she really is. I adore her.
PC: What about Harry Connick, Jr. becoming a judge on X FACTOR? He just did this column and he is clearly a musician with few equals.
SC: I thought he was terrific when he mentored on IDOL last year. And, I'm surprised he didn't get the job [replacing me], because I think he is really, really charismatic, knowledgeable, funny - I would love to work with him going forward.
PC: The question of the hour is undoubtedly this: could you elaborate on your criticism in auditions of performers being "too Broadway" or "too cabaret"?
SC: (Big Laugh.) That's a very difficult question to answer to you, of all people, Pat!
PC: I know, that's why I'm putting you on the spot!
SC: I think I kind of mean that there are certain things you see on Broadway or in the West End of London, and they‘re quite - I don't know quite what it is - well, a bit old-fashioned and a bit over-the-top.
PC: The screaming divas and shrieking tenors.
SC: Yeah, they're not really aware what's happening in the charts, that's for sure!
PC: So, it's not a criticism of Broadway per se, just of an over-the-top performance style.
SC: Yeah, I'm trying to find a proper answer for this - but you clearly know what I mean when I say it.
PC: In a nutshell: the Ethel Merman/Patti LuPone-style singing. Some may like it, but it's not so attractive to many who come from the recording industry.
SC: Yeah. Too much. Too much.
PC: What's the worst example?
SC: I tend to always have that song "Tomorrow" in my mind - which I can't stand - when I say it; so maybe that's why.
PC: I know one of your favorite songs is a Jim Steinman composition originally written for a musical - "Total Eclipse of the Heart". Could you tell me about the Westlife version of the song you produced and Jim Steinman's own epic remix that you had him do for it (available on his blog)?
SC: Well, it was fantastically mad! That's what I like about him: when Jim does something he is so over-the-top and that's why I like working with him. I mean, he is hysterical to work with! You never know what you are going to get - and, it's always larger than life. But, all that is what makes him great!
PC: And what makes him Jim. Thoughts on BAT OUT OF HELL as an album?
SC: Fantastic. Just fantastic.
PC: Jim is the only songwriter to have written all the songs on any of the top twenty bestselling albums of all time. Do you think he should get more respect as a composer/lyricist?
SC: Yes. One hundred percent. You know, we were talking about Andrew being underrated, and I think Jim is in the same position. You know, when you can sell that many records it doesn't happen by accident!
PC: So you're a huge fan of his work in general?
SC: It's all sort of timeless - especially "Total Eclipse".
PC: Define collaboration.
SC: When you are as happy that the other person gets what you get.
PC: You couldn't have given me a better answer than that!
SC: (Big Laugh.)
PC: Favorite movie musical?
SC: Oh, God... I'm struggling here... (Long Pause.) I probably would choose something like SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER. Yeah, that's it.
PC: Thank you so much, sir. This was amazing.
SC: Likewise. Likewise. It was really nice to talk to you.
PC: I hope lots of Broadway hopefuls and Gleeks turn up at the X FACTOR auditions for you!
SC: I hope so, too. Thank you for doing this interview, Pat. I like you. Definitely. Thank you. Bye bye.