EXCLUSIVE: Simon Cowell sure knows how to turn up the behind-the-scenes drama on TV shows, whether he’s appearing on them or producing them. I’ve just learned that Paula Abdul has been asked to show up for the judges panel for his U.S. version of The X Factor in Los Angeles on Sunday. But here’s the thing: I’m told her deal still isn’t done yet but is in “final negotiations.” Reps are working all day and probably all night to get it done before tomorrow’s 1 PM and 6 PM tapings of auditions with wannabe contestants when the full judgespanel assembles for the first time at USC’s Galen Center. But Simon Cowell is counting on his former American Idol sidekick to show up anyway because, hey, they’re friends. “But will she really show up? No way her reps will let her go if that deal isn’t done,” an insider just told me. The sticking point at first was that CBS still had a hold on Abdul stemming from her deal to headline another TV talent series as lead judge, Live to Dance, which debuted in January 2011 only to be canceled after one season. CBS wasn’t letting Paula go to Fox at first. That now seems to have been ironed out, but there still are several deal points to finalize. “She’s been asked to show up tomorrow whether her deal is done or not,” an insider explained to me.
Meanwhile, there’s also been behind-the-scenes drama regarding picking the hosts for The X Factor. Cowell told me recently he wants a known female performer and a young Hollywood actor to co-host. His initial picks were 32-year-old former head Pussycat Doll and ABC’s Dancing With the Stars standout Nicole Scherzinger, always his first choice to host, and Corbin Bleu, the 22-year-old African-American co-star of the High School Musical franchise. With both talents able to sing and dance, the possibilities for their hosting seemed myriad. But, according to an insider, at their first meeting, “Nicole walked in and saw Corbin and his baby face and asked, ‘What are you, 15?’ And then she walked out.” So, just like that, Bleu was nixed. Instead, veteran UK emcee Steve Jones was flown in for an audition, and insiders say he had “chemistry” with Scherzinger. So now he’s a done deal for the gig. Like UK and now U.S. version X Factor judge Cheryl Cole, Jones isn’t known to American audiences. “But Simon’s goal is to bring fresh talent and fresh faces to the U.S. and he’s doing it,” a source close to Cowell explains to me. A Fox insider laughs off concern there are too many Brits now on board this American show: “We are going to have an advertising integration with Berlitz, so we are going to make a few extra bucks on the accents.”