Simon Cowell leaving ‘American Idol” after this season

By Greg Hernandez

Curmudgeonly judge Simon Cowell is leaving “American Idol” after this season to launch a U.S. version of the U.K.’s “The X Factor.”

Cowell, whose future on the show has been widely speculated about in recent weeks, revealed the news in a surprise appearance Monday during Fox day at the Television Critics Association winter tour in Pasadena.

“It was a great gig,” Cowell said of “Idol.” “I’ve had the best 8-9 years of my life doing this job.”

The most influential of “Idol” judges has hinted for a few years that he wanted to eventually leave the show so closely identified with him from day one.

“I was offered a lot of money to stay on but that wasn’t the reason behind it,” he said. “I felt like doing something different.”

Cowell will complete the current season of “Idol” which premieres Tuesday night with new judge Ellen DeGeneres aboard. He will then return to Fox in the fall of 2011 with “The X Fact\or,” That talent competition premiered in the U.K. in 2004 and was created by Cowell. He will be both a judge and executive producer of the U.S. show. Unlike ‘Idol,’ the new show will have an age limit for contestants.

“You could literally be 100 years old so Paula [Abdul] could enter,” he joked. “This country still has thousands and thousands of talented people just waiting to getting discovered. Susan Boyle is one of the reasons why I like a show without an age range. It’s an incredible story. That’s what these shows can do. We hope on X Factor we’re going to meet the American version of Susan.”

So will Cowell’s former judging partner, the loopy but popular Abdul, join him in the new venture?

He isn’t ruling it out.

“I adore Paula. whatever happens I will be working with her in some capacity because I miss her,” he said.

Fox executives are hoping “X Factor” can give them the kind of ratings success in the fall that “Idol” has given them in the spring. For Cowell, the prospect of creating another talent show in the U.S. is a fresh and exciting new start.

“There’s absolutely no guarantees,” he admitted. “This for me is a little bit when I came over her to do ‘American Idol.’ I actually thought we’d last a few weeks …I loved that first year when I just didn’t know if it would work or not.”

Fox executives said they want to give themselves plenty of time to choose a replacement for Cowell. The judge himself jokingly suggested the show’s famously over-employed host Ryan Seacrest for the gig “so then he can have another job.”

Cowell said his final year on “Idol” will be bittersweet but focused” “I want to leave ‘Idol’ this year bigger and better than ever. It feels fresh, it feels relevant. We’re all excited about going back onto the show.”


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