Simon Cowell Biography

TV and Pop Music Executive and Talent Scout

Simon Cowell
Simon Cowell. Photo by Michael Tran / FilmMagic

Simon Cowell (born October 7, 1959) is an English pop music and television entrepreneur. He is also an onscreen personality as a judge of talent. He is known for his abrasive style, making direct, cutting comments and sometimes insulting contestants. He played a crucial role in the success of the TV shows "American Idol," "Britain's Got Talent," and "The X Factor." Cowell signed many future pop stars to their first recording contracts.

Early Life

Born October 7, 1959, in Brighton, England, Simon Cowell is the son of a music industry property executive. He has three half-brothers, a half-sister, and a multimillionaire property executive younger brother. Cowell dropped out of high school at the age of 17 and performed a number of menial jobs until he found his way to a position in the mailroom of EMI Music Publishing, his father's employer.

Mentoring From Pete Waterman

At EMI, Cowell worked his way up to the job of a record producer. He also met Pete Waterman, one-third of the legendary Stock Aitken Waterman production team, in 1984. Cowell said that he learned more from Pete Waterman in a very short period of time than he would be able to learn from an entire career with a major label. Simon Cowell formed the label Fanfare Records in 1985 with Ian Burton, and the pair achieved a series of Top 10 pop hits with their artist Sinitta.

Pop Music Entrepreneur

By 1989, music conglomerate BMG offered Cowell a position as A&R consultant. In that role, he signed such acts as 5ive and Westlife to contracts ultimately resulting in sales of over 25 million albums for his label S Records. In 2002, Cowell formed the label Syco Records and signed such successful new recording acts as Il Divo and "Pop Idol" contestants Will Young and Gareth Gates.

He sold his share of S Records in 2003 for a reported $42 million.

Cowell played a role in signing many "X Factor" and "American Idol" contestants to recording contracts. Arguably, his most significant success has been the boy band One Direction, which became one of the biggest boy bands of all time, topping pop charts around the world.

Television Entrepreneur

Simon Cowell was hired along with mentor Pete Waterman and two other music industry celebrities in 2001 to be judges on the "Pop Idol" talent show in the U.K. His arrestingly direct and sometimes rude comments in judging contestants gained Cowell quick notoriety. Seen as a key part of the show's success, he was asked to take the same role in "Pop Idol's" American offshoot "American Idol" in 2002. Simon Cowell served as a judge on "American Idol" for the first nine seasons. In 2004, Simon Cowell was hired to produce the show "The X Factor" in the U.K. while "Pop Idol" was put on hiatus. He served as a judge on the U.K. version of "The X Factor" for the first seven seasons and then left to launch the show in the U.S. After the U.S. show ended, he returned to judging in the U.K. in 2014's 11th season. "The X Factor" crowned its 14th U.K.

winner, boy band Rak-Su, in December 2017. Their debut single, "Dimelo," hit No. 2 on the U.K. pop music chart.

After the success of both "American Idol" and "The X Factor," Simon Cowell and his business partners put together a new talent show that was open to performers of any kind from singers and dancers to comedians and magicians. The show was named "America's Got Talent," and it debuted in June 2006. In June 2007 "Britain's Got Talent" debuted in the U.K. The third season of "Britain's Got Talent" gained worldwide recognition with the discovery of singer Susan Boyle. Cowell has served as a judge on "Britain's Got Talent" for all its seasons, and he joined the "America's Got Talent" judging panel in 2016. He has continued in that role. 2016's "America's Got Talent" winner Grace VanderWaal was identified as a rising star by Billboard magazine in 2017, and her debut album "Just the Beginning" reached the Top 25 on the U.S. album chart.

In 2015, Simon Cowell launched the show "La Banda" on Univision in the U.S. The goal of the show was finding male singers to make up the ultimate Latino Boy Band. It aired for two seasons in 2015 and 2016.

Pop Music Successes

  • Susan Boyle
  • Fifth Harmony
  • Gareth Gates
  • Il Divo
  • Labrinth
  • Little Mix
  • Olly Murs
  • One Direction
  • Sinitta
  • Westlife
  • Will Young

TV Successes

  • "Pop Idol" (2001–2003)
  • "American Idol" (2002–2016)
  • "The X Factor UK" (2004–present)
  • "America's Got Talent" (2006–present)
  • "Britain's Got Talent" (2007–present)

X Factor's Failed U.S. Experiment

In January 2010 a formal announcement appeared stating that Simon Cowell was leaving "American Idol" after the 2010 season. At the same time, Fox announced that the network would broadcast a U.S. version of "The X Factor" with Cowell as lead judge. This announcement resulted in a significant reshuffling of the judges on "American Idol." Only Randy Jackson remained from previous seasons.

In April 2011, Simon Cowell announced that he would no longer judge the U.K. version of "The X Factor" and would concentrate solely on the U.S. version. "The X Factor" debuted in the U.S. in September 2011 with Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, L.A. Reid, and Nicole Scherzinger in the judges' seats. The show transferred successfully to the U.S., but the judges shuffled in each season. For season two Demi Lovato and Britney Spears replaced Nicole Scherzinger and Paula Abdul. For season three Kelly Rowland and Paulina Rubio replaced Britney Spears and L.A. Reid.

One of the key selling points of the new show was a guaranteed payment of $5 million to the show's winner paid over a five-year period.

The first season of the show produced strong ratings, but they fell off dramatically for the second and third seasons, resulting in cancellation. Like NBC's successful competition show "The Voice," the U.S. version of "The X Factor" had difficulty producing breakout recording artists. However, the second season's third-place finishers Fifth Harmony have become pop stars in their own right, releasing the No. 4 charting hit single "Work From Home" in 2016 and two Top 10 charting albums.

Personal Life

Cowell's personal life has been the subject of intense media scrutiny. He was engaged to marry makeup artist Mezhgan Hussainy from 2010 until they broke up in 2011. In 2013, according to reports, he began dating Lauren Silverman. Her husband, Andrew, filed for divorce in July 2013 citing her adulterous relationship with Cowell. News reports also indicated that Lauren Silverman was pregnant with Simon Cowell's child. The divorce was settled out of court in August, and the baby Eric was born in February 2014. 

Legacy

Simon Cowell played a crucial role in popularizing music competition shows on television. At its peak, each major network in the U.S. aired music competition shows in primetime. During his tenure at "American Idol," the show led U.S. television ratings for seven consecutive seasons, an all-time record. "The X Factor" became an institution in the U.S., producing No. 1 hit singles by the show's winners with ease.

Cowell also has had a significant impact on pop music in both the U.S. and the U.K.

He has favored the light pop sounds championed by his mentor, Pete Waterman. With Simon Cowell's support, artists like One Direction, Westlife, Fifth Harmony, and Little Mix have become pop superstars.