Wait, Simon Cowell's Rudeness As American Idol Judge Was All Faked For TV?

Simon Cowell looking displeased during an audition in American Idol.
(Image credit: Fox)

As we reach the end of the 2022 TV schedule, it’s a good time to look back on the year that was and perhaps even farther. This year marked the 20th anniversary of American Idol, and fans may be ready to recall fond memories of Simon Cowell’s legendary reputation for being rude as a reality TV judge. Though apparently, the former American Idol star wasn’t always that horrific, which came to light thanks to someone close to the production.  

According to Fox executive Mike Darnell a “career retrospective” reported by Deadline, it turns out that Cowell’s trademark bluntness was a bit manufactured. It wasn’t a total fake, so much as Simon Cowell was instructed to play towards his natural “frankness” that was already on display. Darnell’s reasons for why this persona was necessary were as follows: 

I knew we had to get Simon Cowell as he was the star of the show but we needed something different in the U.S. — the mean judge, the frank judge. In all the other shows before him, everyone was polite and nice, and I knew that was going to be [a] thing. Simon, to his credit, was willing to do anything.

20 years ago, American Idol shot into the stratosphere of TV’s pop culture, acting as one of the earliest successes of reality television. Part of that imprint came from Simon Cowell, who acted as the “bad guy” among the more positive personalities of original co-judges Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul. That attitude, while making Cowell just as much of a household name as American Idol successes like Kelly Clarkson, seems pretty far and away from the Cowell people see nowadays. 

If you read statements like why Simon Cowell has stayed with America’s Got Talent for so long, a different picture emerges. This version of Cowell is the one who loves to actually discover new talent and nurture it, and Mike Darnell would know that better than anyone. Continuing his remarks about Cowell’s judging style, the former American Idol mastermind reinforced this quite simply:

Simon Cowell learned the character. Underneath he’s a different character. Watch Britain’s Got Talent or America’s Got Talent now and he’s a much softer version now.

None of the stories told above are intended to make Simon Cowell look like a softy, or a totally manufactured personality. Instead, they seem to suggest that instead of just being a person who loves to walk around and ruin someone’s day, Cowell is more of a constructive critic who loves to cheer for the underdog. But even when that humanity is on display, you can still see those moments when Simon Cowell’s patience is tested, and the persona he became known for on American Idol shows up to play.

The most recent season of America’s Got Talent is wrapped, but you can still get in on all the fun! With a Peacock subscription in hand, reliving Season 17 is as easy as signing into the streamer. Though if you’re looking to learn more about the victors of this latest round, you can read our interview with the winners of AGT’s latest season. If you're ready to plan ahead for the new year, check out our 2023 TV premiere schedule!

Mike Reyes
Senior Movies Contributor

Mike Reyes is the Senior Movie Contributor at CinemaBlend, though that title’s more of a guideline really. Passionate about entertainment since grade school, the movies have always held a special place in his life, which explains his current occupation. Mike graduated from Drew University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science, but swore off of running for public office a long time ago. Mike's expertise ranges from James Bond to everything Alita, making for a brilliantly eclectic resume. He fights for the user.