From brutal to beloved, Simon Cowell heads to "Idol" farewell

Wed May 19, 2010 2:08am EDT
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Jill Serjeant

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - He began as "Mr. Nasty," morphed into one of the most beloved (and richest) stars of U.S. pop culture, and ushered in a brutal style of reality TV.

Simon "I don't mean to be rude, but.." Cowell bids farewell to "American Idol" next week, leaving a litany of stinging put-downs, an assortment of black and white T-shirts and big shoes to fill on what began in 2002 as a summer talent contest and became America's most watched TV show.

"Simon's departure is the end of an era on 'Idol.' Everybody knows the show is going to lose something big and irreplaceable when he goes," said Todd Gold, managing editor of

Cowell's exit as a judge from "American Idol" is more an "au revoir" than an "adieu" for American TV viewers. (He plans to return with his own "X-Factor" show in late 2011).

But the abrasive Briton and his one-liners have established a trend that has been widely imitated on U.S. television.

"We had seen nasty people on TV both in fiction and nonfiction. But we had never seen anything quite like him before," said Robert Thompson, professor of popular culture at Syracuse University.

"It was almost when you put a panel together, you had to have certain types and one of those included the Simon character," said Thompson, recalling the arrival on U.S. shores of Brits Piers Morgan ("America's Got Talent") and celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay ("Hell's Kitchen"), and Italian choreographer Bruno Tonioli ("Dancing With the Stars").

Whether he was rolling his eyes in exasperation, mocking fellow judge Paula Abdul, or introducing Americans to curious British expressions like "ghastly," or "a bit wet," 50-year-old Cowell was a breath of fresh air in the tried-and-true talent show formula, media watchers say.   Continued...

<p>Simon Cowell, one of the judges on the American Idol television show, is interviewed as he arrives for the show's season finale in Los Angeles, California, May 21, 2008. REUTERS/Fred Prouser</p>