He's baaaack! Having ditched "American Idol" to spearhead the U.S. version of "X Factor" on Fox (series debut Sept. 21 at 8 p.m.), Simon Cowell (as usual) pulled no punches in a conference call with reporters. In comparing his "American Idol" partner in crime Paula Abdul to new judge Nicole Scherzinger, Cowell was merrily blunt, saying, "What was interesting was that Paula can be a bit wacky at times, but Nicole wasn't far behind in a fantastically self-centered way, which she wasn't aware of."

How wacky and self-centered? "Every city we went to, she changed her accent," Cowell continued. "In New York she had a Brooklyn thing, in Dallas she became a Southern belle. With Paula, within five minutes she has no awareness the camera is still on and she'll fight with you." Not that he minds. "That's what I like about her. It was like getting an old dog back from the rescue pound, grateful to see you and you're glad to have them back."

As to his other judge-mate, of L.A. Reid he said, "[He's] been a revelation. He's one of the most competitive people I've ever met." And while he "misses" Randy Jackson, he doesn't see a time when he'll lure him away from "American Idol." "He really is a good friend," Cowell said, noting that he hangs out with Jackson "all the time." "Maybe we'll get him a few front row seats and he can do his dog barking thing every week. But he's happy on 'Idol.'" 

Cowell was equally open to seeing other familiar faces from "Idol." He mentioned that former "Idol" contestants did indeed try out for "X Factor." "I didn't have any problem with that," he said, before adding, "None of them did particularly well." As far as goofy contestants (several made it through on the British version of the show), Cowell shrugged it off, "It comes down to the individual judge's decision. Already there have been one or two questionable decisions by a couple of the judges, but that's down to them."

 

Surprisingly, Cowell didn't mind the preponderance of "American Idol" questions, even addressing how he'd feel if the show finally wins an Emmy after his exit. "Well, I find it very amusing if the year I'm not on it it would win the Emmy," he said. "That would make me laugh. So it will. I don't see it as threathing, I think it would be more ironic. But if it wins, it would be because of all the years before, so I would take the win."

 

Cowell, who laughed easily during the interview, also admitted to having a less than wonderful day while filming "X Factor." "We showed me having a sort of childish meltdown, because I hated what everyone was doing on that day," he admitted. "It's not always happy, sunny days when you make these shows... You've got to show the good, the bad and the ugly." In this case, the ugly happened when the contestants had to reconfigure hit songs in an overnight challenge but botched the job. "They sounded absolutely dreadful and everyone sounded rubbish; we had a live audience and they knew it was rubbish. The whole thing was filmed... and when I watched it back, it was embarrassing but I agreed, we should keep it in."

 

Cowell said that the show's biggest distinction from similar programs is "it's quite edgy, very raw... it's real life," but admitted the mentoring aspect of the show might seem familiar thanks to NBC's "The Voice." "They didn't do it as well [as we do], to be honest with you," Cowell added. "I kind of expected them to do something like that. It is a necessary part of the format that you mentor these contestants. And it's not just what you're doing the on show. The point is can you mentor someone and make a star? You have to judge what we do and measure what they do on 'The Voice.'" Noting that One Direction has become a major success in the U.K., Cowell suggested that "X Factor" already has the better track record. 

 

One item Cowell was tight lipped about was the hiring and apparent firing of judge Cheryl Cole. About her brief tenure on the show, he would only say, "She's in episode one, in the first hour. In terms of how we address [her exit], we pretty much tell it like it was. She was on the show, then she got replaced by Nicole. First half [of the season debut] it's Cheryl, second half it's Nicole."