SIMON Cowell was his usual polite self at this afternoon’s launch for one of ITV’s biggest events of 2011.
Thanking us for taking the time to turn up, and revealing that he still worries no-one will.
There was no chance of that, even though the invites to the London event only went out some 24 hours before.
He was here with Ant and Dec to talk about the much trailed Red Or Black?, ahead of the first promos on ITV1 and ITV2 tonight.
And to reassure both his mum and others who are worried about his punishing workload.
“I think I’m alright,” he smiled, looking a touch tired.
“I think I coughed once down at my mum’s and that means I’m having a heart attack or something.
“This (Red Or Black?) is fine. For me, it’s an easy thing to do. These guys (hosts Ant & Dec) do all the hard work.
“I’ve had an easier year this year, no problem.”
There was plenty of laughter as mega rich Simon, flanked by Ant and Dec, was asked if he bought a Lottery ticket, as you can hear in the short audio clip below:
More about Red And Black? further down the page and at the ITV site here.
But first Simon spoke in a post-press conference chat about the next series of The X Factor, both in the UK and USA, and the current series of Britain’s Got Talent.
Here are two more short audio extracts, followed by the text of what he said after the main event:
Britain’s Got Talent?
Decisions about The X Factor?
Britain’s Got Talent?
“I’m not going to see any rehearsals. I’m going to walk into the live shows on the night and try and judge it fairly.”
Ratings down without him on the panel for the recorded audition shows?
“It peaked last year at this time at 11.8m. It peaked this week at 11.4m. You’ve got to look at what our inheritance is. It’s 2m below. But if you’d have told me a year later that we’d be getting these kind of numbers, eleven and a half million people watching every week, who says that’s bad news? It’s good news. We’ve got to get into the habit, by the way, of stop being gloomy. The fact is, people are enjoying the show. I think it’s fantastic. The whole story about The Hoff leaving is ridiculous. I don’t know where anyone got that story from. So I’m happy with it. I’m really looking forward to the semi finals.”
Do you think the dip in ratings is because he’s not there?
“A little bit but it’s creeping up. It went up week on week, so you’ve just got to keep making good TV, you know, and stop worrying about people writing these kind of headlines. The public aren’t stupid. They like the show. I get feedback from the public and I know what’s a good show and a bad show. This is a good show.
“They’re going to be produced better on the finals this year. They’ve got a much better team around them. So I think all the singers have got better chances. They’ve going to have more rehearsal time. I think the talent, actually, is better this year than last year. I thought that kid last week was very good. And there’s a few more surprises still to come. So, like I said, I’m actually looking forward to the semis this time.”
When will you be making your decision about X Factor?
“Well, I’m working on it all the time at the moment. I’m working with the producers, with ITV, actually on a daily basis. I said we’re going to make an announcement soon about the semi finals and the final (expected to be moved to a bigger stage). I’ve got to get it confirmed with ITV. But you change it every day. I mean, I’m going to have a big role in it.”
Can you confirm the American X Factor now? Is it Cheryl Cole, definitely?
“I can’t. No contracts are signed yet.”
When are contracts going to be signed?
“Well, I’m filming on Friday, so soon. Otherwise it’s just going to be me!”
So we will know the judges by Friday?
“Yeah, you will. You’ll have to, yeah. We’re all up for this. And like what we’re talking about today, we want to make big event shows. I think things have got a bit drab at the moment, a bit boring. You guys need something to write about. Your viewers need something to get excited about. And that’s what we’re doing. We’re taking some risks, going to give it a go. And look, as a British company I’m very proud that these shows are going to be sold all over the world.”
Are you not worried that too many changes on The X Factor panel might put fans off?
“It depends who goes on.”
Are you going to keep Louis and Dannii?
“You’ll have to wait and see. I haven’t spoken properly about it yet.”
Is there a high chance Cheryl Cole has got the job in the US?
“A good chance.” (smiles)
Billed as Britain’s biggest gameshow, Red Or Black? is produced by Simon’s company Syco TV and ITV Studios.
Stage one is to get some contestants. Around 7000 to be chosen at random from those who apply. Which is why we, and Simon, were there today.
You have to be over 18 and a UK resident, with more details here. Applications close at midday on Friday May 13.
The lucky 7000 will assemble at Wembley Arena next month for the start of a 10-stage journey for seven of them to a possible £1m each.
Simon confirmed he had taken out insurance in case of a full £7m payout.
Subsequent rounds, with numbers reducing all the time, will be filmed at various locations across Britain.
Until eight finalists compete in each of the live studio shows to be screened across a week in September – that’s 56 finalists in total across the seven nights.
Each 90-minute show ending with a single contestant choosing either red or black on a giant spinning wheel and going home with either £1m – or nothing.
At every stage it’s a game of chance, with no skill required.
Simon spoke about a gamble by a contestant but then quickly corrected himself. “We can’t say gamble – risk their luck.”
Some of the example games we were shown in a teaser “sizzle” tape were pretty crazy, including dropping cars from huge heights.
“I like big ideas,” said Simon. “It’s monstrous this show.”
Dec: “It’s hugely exciting. Over seven nights later on this year, seven people will get the chance to play for £1m live on ITV. Every show is split into three different stages. You have the arena stage, which is where everybody gets together to the Red Or Black Arena, which will be at Wembley. Every game that we play has a red or black outcome. If they get it right, they go through to the location stage, which will be shot all throughout the summer. And then eventually we get the people down to a final eight, who will come to the studio and will play the red or black games for a million pounds.
“There are 10 games to play. If your luck holds out for those 10 stages, you will be playing for a million pounds. If your luck holds out 10 times, you win a million pounds, red or black. If your luck holds out 10 times in a row, if you are that lucky, you will walk away with a million pounds live on ITV1. We’ll do that every night.”
Simon: “You can’t drop out. You’ve got to play the million pound question. As rarely happens on TV, which is what excited us, is that every single night you will be standing at a gynormous wheel – you’re going to have to make that decision.”
One of the probable games involves contestants being strapped to a rocket – one red and one black. Simon joked that he’d like to try it out himself.
Asked if X Factor judge Cheryl Cole would be appearing in Red Or Black, he grinned: “She could be being strapped to a rocket with me on this show. I am thinking about strapping Cheryl to a rocket. She doesn’t know yet. We’re just going to tell her it’s a big firework.”
Simon added: “There is a big celebrity component in it. There are a lot of people who are well known who will front a lot of the big arena games.”
He said big music stars would also perform during the studio show and, themselves, be part of the red or black theme.
“It’s probably the riskiest thing we’ve ever done,” he confessed when talking about the logistics of making such a huge piece of event TV, including large stunts and games.
“You see a lot of rubbish shows on TV at the moment. This is something that’s never been seen before. That’s exciting.”
Ant: “The scale of it is huge. I think it’ll be unmissable.”
I asked Simon if he would like to take the arena stage of future series to other cities – and if he had plans to make a version of Red Or Black in America.
“For sure. I’m sure the boys would love to do this up in Newcastle. I’d love to take it around the world. I think the concept works. But it’s a very expensive show to make and you can’t do it small. But I hope if it succeeds it will travel. We’ve got interest in America anyway.”
Ant added: “We travel round the country on the location games. We’re everywhere.”
Dec: “We’re all over. The arena is in London but very much the location stuff is all of the UK as well. So there will be at some point playing some games near pretty much everybody. The location is all over the place.”
The X Factor final to be moved to Wembley Arena or London’s O2 Arena?
Simon: “I’m going to make an announcement fairly soon about the finals and semi finals about X Factor which are very, very, very exciting.”