Simon Says

Simon Cowell's American Idol premieres tonight for its eighth season. Cowell talks to SheKnows about the newest American Idol judge, the new crop of contestants and the show's recent tragedy.

American Idol's Simon Cowell: always in a good mood

American Idol: new addition

American Idol is shaking things up this year, and the biggest change is the new permanent seat added to the panel for a fourth judge. Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul have been joined by Grammy nominated songtress Kara DioGuardi.

"I'd never spoken to this girl in my life and I didn't know much about her," Cowell admits, but he was quickly won over by DioGuardi. "She has experience. She's written hit songs. She has an opinion, which is very, very important. She talks a lot. I think she's probably well qualified."

DioGuardi is also no stranger to American Idol, having worked with contestants in the past, not to mention having Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood crooning her tunes in the real world.

"Kara knows what the end process is and what you have to do to turn somebody into a recording artist," Cowell considers. "She's obviously not snobby about this kind of music or this kind of process, which some people can be. At least she's not going to look down on the process, which is a good thing."

Nonetheless, Cowell can't promise the new quartet is going to be a hit.

"I have no idea whether this is going to work or not," he admits. "I haven't seen the show back yet. It's only when I watch the show that we actually know if this has been a good idea or a bad idea.

The thing I do support is at least trying new things," he continues. "Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't work. That's the delicious thrill of making reality television – you genuinely don't know."

Simon and American Idol host Ryan SeacrestOne thing fans are sure to enjoy is seeing the ladies gang up on American Idol's meanest judge!

"One is hard enough; two is unbearable," he groans. "They've both got personalities and they're both very forceful. At least I've got Randy by my side, so it's not that bad."

It also helps that Cowell has the final vote when there's a tie.

"I love it: They hate it," he laughs. "There's been a few arguments along the way, particularly from the girls when they can't get their own way. There was one particular girl who came in in a bikini. The second she walked in, it was a 'Yes' from us guys and a categorical 'No' from the girls. Luckily, I had the casting vote, so you'll see her again."

American Idol: back in the game

This year, American Idol will bring back the Wild Card, while spending less time focusing on those dreadful auditions.

"The wild card is a good idea," Cowell maintains. "I wasn't crazy about the process we went through the last couple of years, where we were given a small group of contestants who you actually got bored with once you hit about show five of the live shows. This way this is a bit more jeopardy and hopefully a bit more fun in the middle stages."

Cowell has high hopes for the season, especially after shooting the Hollywood round.

"My feeling was we have an interesting bunch," he previews. "We tried to be as broad and as open minded as possible, so that we don't end up with 12 people from the Stepford Wives. It's important that we have all types of singers, all types of people, because I have to say, personality is as important as talent on a show like this. Last year, it was kind of like battle of the blondes and I couldn't differentiate one from the other.

David Cook, last year's American Idol champ"This year there seems to be more personality," he continues. "They're definitely standing up for themselves more, which I like. I'm actually happy and I'm optimistic about this year. I could be wrong."

Cowell's even been heard touting predictions already, theorizing it could be a man's game this year, but he's hedging his bets here, as well.

"When you do the Hollywood week, which we did about a month ago, you get to see all the contestants for a second time," he explains. "The guys overall – maybe five or six of them – were just stronger and they stood out more than the girls. I've said this in the past: I've been wrong. Somebody like a Kelly Clarkson can emerge in the middle stages, which you're not expecting. Anything can happen."

Simon Cowell: 'there is such a thing as bad press'

American Idol's most cantankerous judge is the first to remind us that controversy sells, but Cowell refuses to let November 11 suicide of Paula's "stalker" Paula Goodspeed go into this category.

"I have to separate this controversy, because you're talking about a human tragedy and one that upset me a lot," Cowell maintains. "It hit us like an express train. My regret is that we didn't know how troubled this person was. I wish we could have spent time trying to help her, but we genuinely didn't know. The process on 'American Idol' is they're open auditions. We don't research people. Everyone turns up because they want to be on the show.

"I would assume everyone who auditions for American Idol knows, also, what it's like to audition - i.e. if you're not very good, you're going to get criticized," he continues. "Often, if I have the time, we will go talk to the contestants before they even audition and say to them, 'Welcome to American Idol. If any of you don't like criticism, please don't come into the audition room,' and nobody's ever left."

American Idol is back!As to the reports that Paula Abdul is blaming producers for not keeping Goodspeed away, Simon defends the Idol team.

"They were absolutely horrified," he says of the incident. "These guys have the utmost integrity. We wouldn't work for them if they were the kind of people who would deliberately do something like that. The way that they've been portrayed is unfair. It was their decision two years ago to do Idol Gives Back, which raised $120 million for people. These aren't bad people. All they want to do is make a successful show."

Speaking of Idol Gives Back, the show will not be hosting the mega-fundraising event again this year.

"I personally feel uncomfortable asking people, when things are tight, to be doing this sort of thing," Cowell explains. "It doesn't feel right to turn to people who have problems with mortgages, etc, and [ask them] to start donating money to charities when they have enough problems at home. We will be doing this again, but it just didn't feel appropriate this year."

Simon Cowell: Emmy nominee?

Cowell is one of the most talked about judges out there, but the topic of the new Emmy for reality show judges only made him grimace.

The judges are now four for season eight

"It's a good thing, providing I win, and it's a bad thing if I lose," Cowell quips. "But I wouldn't hold my breath on winning."

Simon Cowell news

Simon gives ex-girlfriend Terri Seymour $9 million
American Idol adds fourth judge
Paula Abdul's American Idol death shocker

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