Cowell's Confession: Simon Says, "I Was Wrong"
Although Simon has very occasionally apologized to a harshly criticized American Idol contestant, Simon rarely admits he's made a mistake. And to be honest, he rarely DOES make a mistake. Sometimes--in fact, most of the time--his critiques are unnecessarily cruel, but they're usually dead-on correct.
However, in a letter to U.K. paper The Daily Mail this past weekend, Simon discussed his other popular show, Britain's Got Talent, after an extremely controversial season that included sobbing underage contestants and the very public post-finale emotional meltdown of frontrunner Susan Boyle after she placed second. "I, of course, am inevitably portrayed as the evil ringmaster. I didn't get into show business to make little children cry or upset a nice lady like Susan Boyle," Simon wrote. "The time has finally come for me to set a few things straight."
He added, candidly: "And I'm the first to hold my hands up and admit I've made mistakes."
First, Simon addressed the children on the show, as much of the BGT backlash has centered on accusations that the younger contenders were exploited for TV drama (like 10-year-old "baby Beyonce" Natalie Okri, who cried and called Simon a "meanie" after he eliminated her in the semi-final round; or 12-year-old drummer Kieran Gaffney, who appeared crestfallen when he was didn't make it to the finals; or 10-year-old singing ballerina Hollie Steel, who nervously broke down in the middle of one of her live performances and bawled hysterically, begging for another chance, until Simon nicely granted her a do-over).
"You just can't imagine how awful it was, sitting in my judge's chair, watching 10-year-old Hollie Steel start to cry in front of millions as she struggled to remember the lines of her song," Simon wrote. "Oh God, it was terrible. Poor child. So I decided to let her come back later in the show to sing again. I was acting on instinct, thinking on my feet, just as I've always tried to do throughout my 30-odd years in the entertainment industry. In this instance, I thought giving Hollie a second chance was the right thing to do. Yet, ironically, I have had more complaints about Hollie being allowed to perform twice than anything else on the show."
Simon continued: "Yet, perhaps my biggest regret of this year was...with Aidan Davis, the 11-year-old street dancer from Birmingham. In the final, I made him cry, too, by describing his performance as lackluster--it was a huge, huge mistake. It almost ruined the whole evening for everyone...I had treated him as I would an adult, forgetting that he was only an 11-year-old child with a dream. I apologized to him afterwards, but it didn't make me feel any better about it. Moral of the story? I don't always get it right. Looking back, I know I could've been kinder."
Simon also admitted he could have been kinder in his treatment of Susan Boyle, who since her meteoric rise to reality-TV fame has suffered an equally swift and dramatic fall, being hospitalized for post-defeat exhaustion and cancelling a couple live performances on the Britain's Got Talent tour amid rumors that she was hysterical and missed her cat Pebbles too much.
"Looking back on it all, it has become clear to me that we didn't handle the situation with Susan as well as we could have," Simon wrote. "Yet to be honest, when I analyze exactly what happened, I don't know that I could have done it any differently...after she sang [in her first audition], I thought she had come over well, but not sensationally. I certainly didn't think: 'Here comes a phenomenon who is going to become the most famous woman in the world, I wonder if she can mentally cope with it?'"
Simon went on to say at first he had no clue that Susan might be emotionally unstable, stating: "She looked a bit eccentric and certainly a character, but that was all....She seemed fine with all the attention--I thought she was utterly charming and really thrilled with what had happened. I thought--perhaps naively--that she was in control. When I asked her if she was enjoying herself, she replied: 'Simon, I am having the time of my life.' I was pleased. I thought whatever happens, we have changed this lady's life."
Simon did write that he started to see cracks in Susan's armor during the semi-finals. "I said [to her]: 'Susan, are you sure this is still all OK?' And again she said, yes, she was fine. I told her the most important thing was that she enjoyed the experience; that it had to be the best night of her life. Even then, I didn't pick up on any unduly troubling signs....Then, during the final show, at the crucial point when the dance group Diversity won, I looked over at her face and thought: 'Christ, she doesn't know how to deal with not winning.' It was a bad moment."
After assuring in his Daily Mail open letter that he will continue to support Susan in everything and anything she does, he posed the two-part question that many people--from regular BGT viewers to media pundits to mental health experts--have been asking for weeks now:
"Should we impose a minimum entry age and introduce some form of stricter psychological screening for applicants?"
Simon argued that the answer was no.
"I'm not so sure. How could that work? There is no easy way of achieving fame, and no guaranteed or trusted way of dealing with it. Yes, there have been problems, but overall I think it is a positive experience for [Susan]. I'm glad we gave her this opportunity and--more importantly--I think Susan is as well. Then there are the children. We have to go through a ton of regulatory bodies and red tape to get them to appear. It would be far easier not to have them, but I like having youngsters on the show. Why shouldn't they have a chance to show off a talent if they've got one? And win or lose, I want it to be a fun experience for them. We take as many precautions as we can. They have minders or their parents with them at all times, and we take great care of them, too. Yes, on stage things can go wrong, as it can with any live broadcast."
Simon concluded his lengthy letter with this:
"I accept I've made mistakes along the way. I like to believe, however, that there are more positives than negatives from the shows I've made. I'm proud that we've found real stars and given normal people a chance to fulfill their dreams. I also accept, as the shows grow, that I have new responsibilities to my contestants. But, most importantly, I'm proud to be making a show in Britain that shows British character at its best. Amid all the controversy over Susan Boyle, it's easy to forget that this year's Britain's Got Talent was won by a bunch of young guys who worked extraordinarily hard for months on end to get that coveted opportunity to perform in front of the Royal Family. I think Diversity are incredible, totally amazing. They prove to me, without a doubt, that while it may have its fair share of sour cynics and bitter moaners, Britain really has got talent."
I have to say, I commend Simon for taking the time to write this. Viewers tend to see him as an unfeeling, dream-crushing bully who has no concern for how his nasty barbs affect contestants, as long as his sardonic soundbites generate big ratings and morning-after watercooler buzz. And naturally, what transpired during the course of the most recent Britain's Got Talent season seemed to only cement Simon's tough image. However, this letter--in which he turns his coldly critical eye on himself for a change--humanizes Simon Cowell. It's refreshing to see that his brutal honesty also applies to his own behavior.