Simon Cowell to Quit as American Idol's Prince of Darkness

Simon Cowell, often mean, but rarely wrong, is calling it quits from Fox's American Idol after this season, he told the Television Critics Association on Monday. Cowell says he plans to focus on developing a U.S. version of the U.K. program The X Factor, in which he has an ownership interest. Logistically, Cowell could not do both programs, according to OK, a British celebrity magazine.%%DynaPub-Enhancement class="enhancement contentType-HTML Content fragmentId-1 payloadId-61603 alignment-right size-small"%% The move is hardly a surprise -- Cowell's brother Tony blabbed about the plans on his Web site last month -- but regardless, a bid for more money is not at play. The caustic Brit reportedly earns $36 million a year, dwarfing the compensation of Paula Abdul, Cowell's fellow judge and Idol space-cadet-in residence, who reportedly quit because she was unhappy with her measly $5 million annual income.

Cowell, according to Advertising Age, wanted $150 million for a three-year contract renewal. Host Ryan Seacrast, by contrast, got a $45 million deal.

The well-timed announcement will add to the intrigue surrounding News Corp.'s (NWS) Fox Network talent competition. Will new judge Ellen DeGeneres withstand Cowell's boorish, cranky behavior? Even more importantly, will News Corp.'s (NWS) shareholders and advertisers be amused? Idol, after all, is big business, although it's taking a hit. The show's ad revenue fell 5% last year, to $858.59 million, according to estimates from TNS Media Intelligence, and its still phenomenal ratings are also slipping. (Some critics blame last season's contestants' lacking personality -- Adam Lambert excluded, presumably.)

Love him or hate him, Cowell usually knows what he's talking about. He never makes any bones about viewing Idol as a self- promotional vehicle, and his brutal honesty in a world of show business phoniness is downright refreshing. And it won't be much of a surprise if even viewers who loathe the prickly Brit find themselves changing the channel after this season ends.

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