Ray Richmond is contributing to Deadline’s television coverage.
The X Factor creator, executive producer and judge Simon Cowell disclosed today that in Season 2, the show will return to its original template of two co-hosts — a male and a female — which was in place last year with Steve Jones and Nicole Scherzinger until Cheryl Cole was sent home and Scherzinger moved to the judges’ table. Cowell also confirmed that the two new mentors replacing the axed Paula Abdul and Nicole Scherzinger will be female. Beyond that, Cowell wouldn’t give specifics during an afternoon conference call with reporters promoting the show’s Season 2 auditions that launch nationwide on March 1.
The selection of both the new hosts and judges “will happen over the next few weeks,” Cowell said. Among those rumored for the open positions are Janet Jackson, Britney Spears and Fergie. “There’s been a load of speculation,” Cowell said, “some true, some not true. It’s true to say that a lot more (potential judges) have entered the frame this year. We really wanted to see who would contact us before we contacted people. We’re in that place right now, which is a good place to be in.” He added that he and the show would be meeting with several people over the next few weeks but stressed: “I won’t confirm or deny any of these rumors at the moment. … Are we flattered there would be interest (from Britney Spears)? Yes. … There will be a lot of twists and turns over the next few weeks and a lot of things we’re going to announce.”
The reason there for two hosts rather than one, Cowell noted, is that there is simply too much information for one person to relay during the course of the show. “I think it’s almost impossible for one person to do the hosting job,” he believes. “With all of the information and the integration of sponsors, (hosts) are like newscasters now. It needs to be two people so they can be in different parts of the studio throughout the show. And we’ve always wanted a boy and a girl to host the show. That’s what’s going to happen now.” Could the boy’s name be Ryan Seacrest, whose deal on American Idol is coming up? “I think Ryan is brilliant at what he does,” Cowell said. “I think Ryan is also a very good negotiator. I admire him for that. He’ll stay on Idol.”
Holdover judge-mentor L.A. Reid, who also was on the call, addressed the conjecture that Whitney Houston had been a strong contender to become a judge prior to her death February 11. “We love Whitney,” he said, “and we would certainly have considered (hiring her). But it never came to that. There was interest there, but we never had meetings about it. We’re both huge Whitney fans and are sad about the loss. But it never got that far, so it wouldn’t be proper to comment beyond that.” Cowell later added that X Factor will continue to pay tribute to Houston on the show in the years to come. “There won’t be a season where we don’t have a Whitney song,” he said. “(Her songs are) timeless. They’ll sound as good in 50 years’ time as they do now. There’s going to be a very different feeling now when people come out and sing Whitney songs because she’s not around anymore, and that’s sad.”
Despite criticism of the sing-off element that resulted in 14-year-old finalist Rachel Crow’s shocking elimination from the competition, Cowell maintained that it’s important going forward to keep the sing-off as part of the format. “The sing-off was intended to save somebody whom we thought should stay in the competition, who’d just had a bad night,” he said, “and it clearly didn’t work according to plan with Rachel. But we want to retain it, as it adds a bit of drama to the results show. When done properly, it’s supposed to help.” Both Cowell and Reid were thrilled to see Crow’s deal with Nickelodeon to star in a comedy series for the kidcaster, announced today. “I remember the night when Rachel was kicked off, I sprinted onto the stage to tell her, ‘In a weird way, this is the best thing to happen to you for your career,’ ” he recalled. “I stuck to what I said, and along came Nickelodeon. It’s such a perfect fit for her.” Cowell called Crow “one of the most determined people I’ve ever met in my life.” Added Reid: “From the beginning, we’ve felt she’d become a major star. And she will be.”
Cowell maintained that Abdul and Scherzinger “have been incredibly gracious and respectful” in the wake of their ouster from the show in January. “They’re friends, and there are certain reasons the changes were made. A show has to change and evolve over the years,” he said. “It was nothing negative about them.” He left open the door to working with both Abdul and Scherzinger again. Cowell also addressed the idea that’s been raised to have a so-called Musical Super Bowl sing-off competition between American Idol, The Voice and The X Factor. “They both bottled it for now,” he said, referring to Idol and The Voice, “but we’d still be up for it.” Concluded Reid: “Particularly if it takes place on X Factor.” Cowell continued, “We’re not sure if Fox or NBC think it’s a good idea, and they’re the ones who have the ultimate decision on whether it happens or not.”