Cowell and his fellow judges are due to begin an eighth series of American Idol
American Idol's judges will keep criticising contestants despite the apparent suicide of a former participant, Simon Cowell has said.
The death of Paula Goodspeed, who was mocked when she appeared on the reality show, "hit us like an express train", he said, and had upset him "a lot".
"What happened was awful," he told reporters. "My regret is that we didn't know how troubled this person was."
But after thinking "long and hard" he decided not to alter the show's format.
And those who auditioned for the programme understood they faced blunt assessments from the judges, Cowell said.
"We have tried to have a sense of humour. The show is not an inherently mean show.
"It is an 'American dream' show where the whole purpose is to find somebody who, through the process, becomes a star," he added.
Tackling 'bad' singers
The panel laughed at Ms Goodspeed, 30, when she had an audition in 2005.
She had braces on her teeth and the judges asked how she could sing while her mouth had "that much metal".
She took an overdose last month and her body was found in a car outside the Los Angeles home of judge Paula Abdul.
"If I had gone back in time and known what she was going through, I wish we could have spent time trying to help her, but we genuinely didn't know," Cowell told reporters in a telephone conference call.
Ms Goodspeed's death sparked a debate over the judges' harsh remarks
Such a shocking event "does make you take a step back", he added.
But he considered it important to stress to "bad" singers that they had no hope of succeeding in the music industry.
Abdul has claimed she warned producers not to let Ms Goodspeed audition for the show but her fears were dismissed for the sake of making an entertaining programme.
But Cowell insisted the show's producers had "the utmost integrity as human beings".
American Idol's eighth series will be shown on US television network Fox from 13 January. It is broadcast by ITV2 in the UK.