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Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 August 2004, 07:39 GMT 08:39 UK
Cowell plans life after Pop Idol
By Darren Waters
BBC News Online entertainment staff in Edinburgh

Simon Cowell became a household name on Pop Idol - and has now founded a TV production company, with talent show The X Factor launching in the UK on Saturday.

Simon Cowell
Simon Cowell made his name as a Pop Idol and American Idol judge
Fleshy, bronzed and wearing his usual garb of jumper and trousers, Cowell is perhaps the only celebrity whose waxwork dummy looks more real than the star himself.

He appeared at Edinburgh TV Festival to talk about his career as the reality TV judge whose put downs have withered even the most thick skinned of wannabes.

He also spoke about his new TV production company, Syco, whose first programme, The X Factor, is about to be broadcast on ITV1.

Delivering a few trademark snarls and sneers - "Paul Abdul was a diva. No, she was a bitch" - he left us in no doubt that it is the real Cowell before us.

Starting a production company seems a strange career move for a man who has made millions in the music industry and become world famous on Pop Idol.

"My act is going to run out really quickly," he said. "I have no inclination to be doing this in five or 10 years time.

The secret is that you let the viewers through the keyhole
Simon Cowell
"It's been a blast for the last three years, but I do not consider myself to be a star."

Unsurprisingly, his first TV venture is not a radical departure from Pop Idol.

The X-Factor is a TV talent show that takes the Pop Idol formula and merely opens it out to anyone aged 16 and above.

"I am bored with just watching 22- or 23-year-olds coming on to a talent show and saying 'make me famous'.

"It's more interesting opening it up to everyone so you can tell more stories."

Cowell told the audience at an industry conference ITV took just three minutes to decide they wanted The X-Factor - to envious grumbles from producers in the audience whose ideas have been turned down time after time.

Pop Idol's Gareth Gates (left) and Will Young
Cowell said there was "no rigging" on the first UK Pop Idol
"The secret is that you let the viewers through the keyhole," he said, explaining why programmes like Pop Idol have become so popular.

He confessed he turned down an opportunity to become a judge on the UK's first reality talent show, Popstars.

"I did not think we should be showing the manufacturing process of a group on TV," he said.

He quickly realised his mistake - but thought the programme failed when it did not have the final decision on who was to be in the group as the climax of the show.

"I thought the end of the show had to be the vote on who had won - and that's what we did as Pop Idol."

Will Young was the first Pop Idol winner, beating Gareth Gates who many felt had been Cowell's favoured choice.

Young was said to have been the choice of Simon Fuller, the programme's producer, and there were rumblings that the programme's result had been fixed.

Reality TV is great as long as you can keep it real
Simon Cowell
"It was a very close vote but there was no rigging. It was very fair."

For a man whose ego is said to be enormous - one newspaper said it was the only manmade object that could be seen from space - Cowell was quick to thank those who helped his career.

He started as a runner at Elstree Studios, realising the entertainment industry was one in which he could succeed despite leaving school with no qualifications.

"I found my mentor when I was 27 in Pete Waterman," he says.

"I followed him around like a dog for two years. He taught me more in two years than working for a corporation for 20 years."

American Idol judges
Cowell hosted American Idol with Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul
Cowell said he was hoping his new programme will have the very X-Factor for which it is named.

A rough cut of footage shown to the audience seems to suggest he will have another hit on his hands - the show blends the talented with the deluded to produce that frothy Saturday night cocktail that serves ITV so well.

Once again, Cowell acts as judge - this time joined by Sharon Osbourne, wife of Ozzy.

"She is fantastic television," he says.

Asked how long the reality TV genre can survive, Cowell says he sees no reason why it cannot go on and on.

"Reality TV is great as long as you can keep it real. If you can tell a story then reality TV can last forever."

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