EXCLUSIVE: It was American Idol‘s newest judge Ellen DeGeneres’ first day of the 9th season’s taping of the Hollywood segment, and she was excited and nervous, sources tell us. But then that turned to anger. Because, our insiders say, Simon Cowell was an hour and a half late for the taping. And Ellen stewed while she waited. She had reason: to accommodate both her talk show hosting duties and her American Idol judging duties, she had moved up her schedule so that now she shot the talk show earlier in the day and then jumped in the car to go to Idol. She was on time, and Cowell was not. “Here it was the first day of taping of the Hollywood shows, and Ellen was there waiting for Simon to show up. Ellen’s new to the gig and she’s very organized and she made a commitment to take this on, and now she’s asking herself, ‘What did I get myself into?’ She called Simon Cowell a prima donna. So right from the start, the chemistry isn’t great,” an insider tells us.
With that, Ellen Degeneres contacted the pal who brought her to the primetime hit show, Fox alternative programming chief Mike Darnell, and made a request: she asked him to “hurry up and pick” Simon’s successor. Cowell has told the world this will be his last season judging Idol to do his own U.S. version of The X Factor. But there’s a problem, a big multi-pronged one, and it involves Ellen vs Simon, and Simon Fuller vs Simon Cowell, and American Idol vs The X Factor as well.
Our sources say that American Idol‘s first choice to succeed Cowell is former Sony music chief Tommy Mottola, best known to the public as Mariah Carey’s controlling ex-husband and the controversial boss of Michael Jackson and George Michael who presided not so much over their musical heydays but mostly their scandal-plagued aftermaths. But get this — Cowell has also designated Mottola as first choice to be a judge on Simon’s American X Factor just announced.
Cowell is reportedly being paid nearly $175 million for launching the new talent search show in the Fall of 2011. (Cowell didn’t own American Idol and only gets paid to appear on it, but he does own X Factor and the whole brand. It is currently shown in 17 countries worldwide and is the No. 1 TV entertainment format in Europe. The X Factor format is owned by Syco, a global music, television and film production joint venture between Cowell and Sony Music Entertainment.)
Execs behind American Idol and The X Factor want a high-profile music industry professional to give some gravitas. And our sources say Mottola, who hasn’t made headlines since he left Sony and started a new music label, is loving this situation. He’s in the middle of an American TV tug of war!
According to our insiders, Fox, Darnell, and Fremantle’s American Idol producers have “come up with a list of 25 people” led by the 60-year-old Tommy Mottola, co-owner of Casablanca Records in a joint venture with the Universal Music Group. He’s also been a guest on Idol. Viwers of the show know him as Mariah’s ex but also as the current husband of Mexican singer Thalía. True, he’s a music legend in his own right for heading up Sony Music Entertainment, parent of the Columbia label, for 15 years. But ever since leaving, he’s been on the downlow. “What’s he doing now? Good question. He’s got some label. But in truth he hasn’t done much,” one of our sources shrugged. Mottola also is known as a mentor and former talent manager. His most famous proteges were Hall & Oates, Carly Simon, John Mellencamp, Diana Ross, and Taylor Dayne as well as Mariah Carey in the 1990s, and Jessica Simpson and Jennifer Lopez in the early 2000s.
Cowell’s music background and blunt assessments anchor American Idol, “but he’s also a music industry insider and Mottola fits that bill. And he certainly knows how to find young talent,” our source explained. “Mottola is frontrunner for Idol, but when Simon became aware of this, he began trying to get Tommy to team with him and Paula Abdul for his new show The X Factor.” Our insider feel there is the very real likelihood that Paula Abdul will sign for big dough to reteam with Cowell.
Let’s not forget also there is real rivalry between The Two Simons: Simon Cowell and American Idol‘s Simon Fuller. (See SHOW THEM THE MONEY: Is Simon Fuller’s Sweetened TV Deal Richer Than Cowell’s?) Cowell turned down $100 million to stay on Idol. But if he signs Abdul and starts his X Factor with two of the three original American Idol judges, this poses a real threat to Fuller. Especially since two of the original three Idol judges are gone, leaving only original judge Randy Jackson and last season’s new judge Kara DioGuardi — both well-known musicians and record producers — and this season’s new non-music-biz judge Ellen DeGeneres, who is 51 and receives a reported $5 million-a-year for the gig.
As for Ellen vs Simon, even before cameras rolled DeGeneres was positioning herself counter to Cowell. “I think he’s mean and I think he says things in an insensitive way and I don’t think that’s the way to get a point across,” she told one interviewer. “I’m going to be brutally honest, in a kind way.” And, as one newspaper noted, “the chemistry between these two stars will be a key plotline.” Still, the suits are handling her with kid gloves because of the cross-promotion benefits expected between Idol and her successful talk show. (DeGeneres has said repeatedly that she plans to book Idol contestants the day after they’re booted.) So, like her or not, and a lot of fans have voiced their disapproval, she is the show’s future, and Cowell is its past.
“Mottola is in the middle of all that and beneficiary of it. Mottola has remarkable leverage because of this tug of war and will get a big payday from somebody,” our source predicted.
But some of the suits behind American Idol have placed high on their list 2 more music execs. Second choice is 38-year-old Guy Oseary “because they’re cautious about skewing too old”. (Idol viewers are aging, from 29.5 years in 2002 to 40.3 for last season’s premiere.) An Israeli businessman who began his career in entertainment at 17 at what was to become Maverick Records, according to his online bios, Oseary is best known as Madonna’s longtime business partner who guided her through the 2006 Confessions Tour, and the 2008 Sticky & Sweet Tour, both of which were top-grossing tours of all time. In 2007 he negotiated the much-talked-about deal of the music business by partnering Madonna and all aspects of her music with Live Nation, the No. 1 touring promotion company in the world.
The 3rd list topper is 56-year-old Jimmy Iovine. The Eminem song “Jimmy Crack Corn” (which also features 50 Cent) is written about this music producer, entrepreneur and chairman of Interscope-Geffen-A&M since 2001. According to his online bios, the Brooklyn-born Iovine began as a recording engineer in the mid-1970s working with John Lennon and Bruce Springsteen. He went on to produce albums for U2, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Stevie Nicks, Simple Minds, Dire Straits and Patti Smith. Then Iovine co-founded Interscope Records in 1990 and became a bigwig at Interscope-Geffen-A&M following Universal’s acquisition of PolyGram. Iovine is credited with having given Eminem’s demo tape to Dr. Dre who signed him to his Aftermath label. Iovine also is a film producer — on the Eminem movie, 8 Mile, in a first-look feature deal with Paramount Pictures and MTV Films and the first pic under that deal Get Rich or Die Tryin’ starring 50 Cent, and the 2009 basketball documentary More Than A Game with LeBron James and Maverick Carter.