Produced by

Simon Cowell: Conqueror or Crank?

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

This season will be Simon Cowell's last as judge on Fox's smash-hit American Idol. The caustic Brit everyone loves to hate is stepping down to bring his show X Factor to American audiences next year. Some say he’s brought diverse audiences together and made us all critics; others argue he has produced few real pop stars in America while popularizing a schmaltzy brand of music. Today: A Soundcheck Smackdown debate on Simon Cowell.

Joining us is Ann Powers, pop music critic of the Los Angeles Times; and Will Friedwald, New York-based jazz critic and author. Also: a look back at Cowell's legacy with Robert Thompson, Professor of Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University.

Weigh in: What's your opinion of Simon Cowell?


Will Friedwald, Ann Powers and Robert Thompson

Comments [28]

Katie from Brooklyn

He's a Crank Conqueror. It's completely manufactured marketing brilliance. We can't call any of his commentary 'good' because it's all a part of the plan! It's business! Why are we watching this saccharine eye candy?! It frightens me.

Mar. 09 2010 10:35 PM
Andy from Utica, NY

Will Friedwald should have his own show on WNYC to talk about more momentous stuff than American Idol--and to interview those who are keeping the embers of good music aglow. He's a great writer and he's great on mic.

Mar. 09 2010 03:11 PM
KZ from New York

I was out and about, so I could write in when the show was on, but I just thought I'd add...

Opera Idol? Who needs it when we have the National Council Auditions. See the Met-produced film "The Audition." There could be nothing more beautiful and moving than Ryan Smith's performance, and his story is the stuff of high drama.

Personally, I can't stand the kind of songs they have on American Idol, so I don't watch. Simon Cowell seems like the perfect representative of the pop music establishment. He knows what the masses like and he's a creep. There have been music business men like him for decades.

Mar. 09 2010 03:02 PM
Voter from Brooklyn

For the caller who thinks Cowell is too hard, do you have any idea of the cold cruel slap in the face these no-talents with heart are going to get when they spend their last dime going out to Hollywood thinking they’ll be stars and end up wiping down tables or worse? He tells them exactly what they need to hear and how.

Mar. 09 2010 02:38 PM
Jennifer from Florida

I am not sure Simon is on the pulse of the voters so much as viewers vote with Simon. We always perceive the push and direction of Simon, and the other judges, as controlling whom the vote should go with/or against. Everyone wants to be correct... so vote on Simon's comments so you can be....

Mar. 09 2010 02:37 PM
John G from Nyack

I find Simon Cowell smarmy, patronizing, and more interested in his own performance than the ones before him.

Mar. 09 2010 02:36 PM

Simon is the Sarah Palin of music. The lowest common denominator will follow along, and vote with him while he poopoos anything real or interesting.

His 'stars' need an entire TV show to break them.

Mar. 09 2010 02:36 PM
Lydia from Clinton, NJ

Your critic has it backwards - it's not that Simon accurately predicts the voters' taste - it's that he influences their taste. He has created a cult of personality where voters obey his edict. He is a kingmaker!

Mar. 09 2010 02:35 PM
Danielle from Summit, NJ

He's mean, arrogant, crass and a pain in the butt, but He and I always agree on the singers perfomances!

Mar. 09 2010 02:35 PM
Voter from Brooklyn

I think Will Friedwald is totally missing the point of a show called “American Idol”.
Renee Fleming and yesterday’s guest Lawrence Brownlee are not American Idols… Spears, Beyonce, J-Zee are American Idols. It’s not Star Search looking for raw talent, it’s a pop contest and Simon Cowell is the only objective person on the show able to judge pop appeal.

Mar. 09 2010 02:35 PM
tom from uws

BTW, Simon is "right" 50% of the time and absolutely wrong half the time. And he does seem bored.

Mar. 09 2010 02:35 PM
Mike C. from Tribeca

Ahem, guys and gals, this is NPR remember? American Idol isn't even pop. It's pure schmaltz ala 1956.

Mar. 09 2010 02:34 PM
Rob from Brooklyn

Simon is American Idol and I hope we never hear from him again. In my opinion he is a pox on the music industry.

The "pop" music on idol is the worst, common denominator, watered down, cheesy, melodramatic drivel genre of music on the face of the planet. Just AWFUL!!!! It pains me that our cultural expression of music is dominated by such crap. There are many creative talented people who make compelling, interesting, and challenging music and this garbage is force fed down the throats of the masses. Really it has destroyed music for almost entire generation. How many times do we have to hear "I Believe I can Fly" before we realize it holds no merit whatsoever.

Mar. 09 2010 02:32 PM
Fred from Brooklyn

The success of Simon Cowell has more to do with packaging than content. His musical range is quite narrow. As far as the appeal of his persona, it’s the basic Roman Colliseum formula and he plays the tyrannous emperor quite well.

Mar. 09 2010 02:32 PM
Kevin from Basking Ridge NJ

Your male guests comments are typical of a music/critic snob when he suggests that there is no good pop music out there. I am a middle-aged dad who watches idol faithfully and likes it as a fairly innocent shared family activity. I am an amateur musician who has been playing in bar bands for years and it would be easy for me to suggest that the stuff on idol is crap. Is it any more crap than the Bobby Sherman, David/Sean Cassidy, Bay City Rollers, (I could go on and on). I don't love all of it and Simon is a carefully crafted pain in the neck. But, there have been several singers on the show that are simply fantastic - Kelly Clarkson, Daughtery, Carrie Underwood, etc. They don't have to take a back seat to any of the bad pop/disco of my day.

Mar. 09 2010 02:29 PM
Terry from New York CIty

Can we talk about Jennifer Hudson, you guys? But also, can we talk about the deleterious effect Idol has had on the past generation of Broadway vocalists (not to mention composers!) It's a mixed bag, no question.

Mar. 09 2010 02:28 PM
Simon Cowell from Manhattan

this woman takes hip hop dance classes

Mar. 09 2010 02:28 PM


Mar. 09 2010 02:27 PM
Rick from Mamaroneck

We watch Idol religiously, but NOT because the music is relevant. It's the one thing we can watch together as a family, and see people putting themselves out there, failing or succeeding.

My family all judges along with Simon, and we all feel that he's the only one that consistently on the mark with his comments. He at least tells it like it is-- we find he's rarely wrong.

Idol will cease to exist without him (it's already jumped the shark with Ellen).

Mar. 09 2010 02:25 PM
tom from uws

We have to understand that virtually the only venues for musical entertainment in prime time are the singing and dancing contests. Why else does every one with a new cd show up to perform on the results shows? There is nowhere else to go.

Every season there are one or two real talents who show up on Idol - and it's fun to see them show up and reach the top, or occasionally be overlooked.

Mar. 09 2010 02:25 PM
Morris Bagnall from Madison NJ

Simon has done for music in the USA what Stock, Aitken and Waterman did for it in the UK.

Google: Jive Bunny and you'll get my drift!

Mar. 09 2010 02:24 PM
Alyson from Brooklyn

Kids don't care about music? What kids does this guy know? Every kid I know loves music. I agree that pop music is mediocre at this point. The mass public wants mediocre stuff. Honestly, the American Idol stars have been some of the better pop stars out there.

Mar. 09 2010 02:24 PM
YourBoss from NYC

calm down john, it's only Simon Cowell...

Mar. 09 2010 02:19 PM
Mike C. from Tribeca

Methinks the professor is a little too much into Mr. Cowell. There are these places around town called "libraries" he might want to check out.

Hey, I made a pun!

Mar. 09 2010 02:14 PM
Darling Nikki from New York, NY

Simon who?

Mar. 09 2010 02:12 PM
JK from Midtown

four words describe my feelings for mr cowell - RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE!!!


Mar. 09 2010 02:09 PM
Stephen from Manhattan

American Idol is a celebration of mediocrity. Thank God for Simon Cowell. At least he speaks the truth. The "talent" of most contestants wouldn't get them into the glee club in a school for the deaf.

Mar. 09 2010 02:08 PM
Edith Head from brooklyn

Simon Cowell is the only reason to watch that Paula is gone...

Mar. 09 2010 02:03 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.