I’ve got an interesting story for you about Simon Cowell. A former Universal director called Hans Ebert had written a scathing piece about Simon on his WordPress-hosted blog. Suddenly, and without warning, Ebert’s blog was taken offline. Someone had shut him down, citing a breach of their Terms Of Service.
Ebert talks about being shut down by an Indian SEO firm who, when he dug into matters, have links to a company in London. The subtext here is that Cowell, or Cowell’s representatives have engaged people for online reputation management who actively try to bury stories that speak negatively about the reality TV kingpin. Naturally, Cowell’s people deny these suggestions:
Cowell’s spokeswoman Thompson says she’s never heard of Ebert and calls our story “complete and utter rubbish.” Adds Thompson: “If something appeared on the Internet and Simon had any objection to it, I would have have heard of it.”
The thing is, it’s not the first time we’ve seen evidence of Simon Cowell’s desperate attempts to manage public perception of him. In 2008, the Daily Mail got their hands on an X Factor contestants’ contract and discovered a clause forbidding the contestants from speaking negatively about Simon. And think about it, with the notable exception of Steve Brookstein, when was the last time you heard an X Factor alumni publicly bashing Simon Cowell?
Steve Brookstein – for the record – was the first ever X Factor winner, and he parted company with Cowell’s label on extremely bad terms. I’ve personally spoken to Brookstein, and some of the acts of media manipulation he was asked to be involved in made it clear to me that he was right to stand his ground. Perhaps someday Steve will be remembered as a guy who had a modicum of integrity rather than an X Factor flop. There’s a bit more to his story than failing to sell records, so look twice at that guy.
A savvy media manipulator
The bulk of Ebert’s articles accuse Cowell of being vastly overrated – a reality TV ‘svengali’ who’s warped and distorted the format so that the contestants barely matter anymore. His original post focused on how American Idol would be stronger without Cowell, describing him as an albatross.
Mr.Cowell is an extremely shrewd man- a manipulator of the truth, shall we say. If one were to read his quotes, you’d be fooled into thinking he actually created the Teletubbies just as I’ve had to correct so many regarding the fact that he never “created” the “Idol” franchise. Nothing of the kind.
He was “hired help” that went on to own that mansion on the hill and eventually became bigger than the show for which he was hired. Ryan Seacrest has been no less important to the success of “American Idol” than Mr. Cowell. He just doesn’t make a song-and-dance about it. He gets on with his career and is slowly building up his empire, than you very much.
There’s much to agree with. Ebert talks about how Cowell has built an impressive brand that has managed to become bigger than the show which launched him. But he sees Simon as more concerned with the dollars than about establishing great new music acts. Ebert’s right, of course. Paul Potts was the ‘inspirational star of Britain’s Got Talent’ until Susan Boyle came along two years later and it was inconvenient to have two winners with the same story.
The point is, your shelf life under Simon Cowell is perilously short. For the millions of wannabes who sign up to those contracts, it seems like a good idea at the time. But wait until the shine wears off that ‘new sensation’ image – you’ll be dumped on your ass in as unceremonious a way as you can think off. And don’t think your old pal Simon will come and give the news to you personally. It’ll be a far cry from him stiffly patting you on the back on the night you win one of his shows.
The destroyer of TV talent competitions
None of the media manipulation stuff would bother me per se, except for the fact that Cowell has no concept of quality control. He’ll happily bankroll the careers of Susan Boyle and Alexandra Burke and others until they outlive their usefulness. Simon Cowell will never make the same mistake that Simon Fuller made – allowing one of his proteges to become bigger than his brand. No chance.
In order to achieve this, we get a heady diet of awful singers and clearly staged moments for television. It might be Sharon Osbourne slinging water around a fellow judge, or allowing the twin talent-vacuum that is Jedward through to the live shows of X Factor to create a talking point. It’ll certainly be all the backstage(d) bickering between the judges and the faked-up reports of salary rows and judges getting fired. Etc, etc.
There’ll be a greater focus on scoring a performance from Lady Gaga than there will on the actual contestants. But then you’ll have Louis Walsh doing his utmost to eliminate the best singers from the competition to accommodate whatever lame acts he’s left himself with this year. All of this falls back on Simon Cowell as the owner of the format. What’s he playing at? Why isn’t he trying to make the show better and create long-lasting stars?
The thing is…I used to be a big fan of Simon Cowell. And I used to be a big fan of reality TV singing competitions. The thrill is wearing off as time has proven that they can’t create long-lasting stars. The losers are more likely to be successful than the winners – witness JLS and Diana Vickers who are giving Alexandra Burke a run for her money.
I just don’t believe that Simon is a safe bet anymore. He should be using his status as starmaker to launch fantastic musicians. Instead, he’s focused on the short-term gains: sign a fame-hungry wannabe up for a couple of years, milk their fame but replace them with a newer version from next year’s X Factor. Carbon copy the format and broadcast local versions all over the world, and you’ve got the market sewn up for years.
Perhaps the tide is already turning. Enough people bought into a protest campaign to stop this year’s X Factor winner, Joe McElderry, from getting the Christmas #1. Rage Against The Machine got the top spot instead, based on a grassroots Facebook campaign. So clearly there are people out there fed up with the type of artist who graduates from the X Factor school of schmaltz.
What do you think folks, has Simon Cowell outlived his usefulness? I’d love to hear your opinions on this one. And don’t forget to give Hans Ebert’s blog a second look. He might become a very important voice in reality TV in the next year or so.