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Simon Cowell's 2014 predictions: Alex & Sierra hits and 'X Factor' U.S. renewal

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Despite its low and rapidly declining ratings, "The X Factor" U.S. will be renewed for a fourth season in 2014, according to the show's creator Simon Cowell. Fox (the show's U.S. network) has not made an official announcement yet about the fate of the show and probably won't make the announcement until May 2014. However, in a telephone conference call with journalists on Dec. 16, 2013, Cowell said he was confident that "The X Factor" U.S. would be renewed for a fourth season, but he said that the show will have a lot of big changes, including an all-new judging panel.

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The show's judges in 2013 are Cowell, Kelly Rowland, Demi Lovato and Paulina Rubio. Cowell is the only judge who has been with "The X Factor" U.S. since the beginning.

Cowell declined to come right out and say that he was quitting the judging panel in 2014, but he did say that if the show is renewed, his role on the show will be different. As I exclusively reported, insiders have been saying that Cowell is expected to go back to being a judge on "The X Factor" U.K. in 2014, filling the spot vacated by Gary Barlow, who replaced Cowell in 2011. Barlow announced that 2013 is his last year as a judge on "The X Factor" U.K.

Cowell also hinted that Fox might reduce "The X Factor" to airing one night a week instead of two nights a week, much like what Fox did with "So You Think You Can Dance" and ABC did with "Dancing With the Stars" after ratings for those shows decreased.

It's hard to always believe Cowell in these predictions. He's made some statements to the media about "The X Factor" U.S. that have turned out to be false. Some examples are:

  • In 2011, Cowell predicted that "The X Factor" U.S. would debut to at least 20 million U.S. viewers. In fact, the show debuted to 12.5 million U.S. viewers, which was the largest audience the show ever got for one episode.
  • In 2012, Cowell said that there would be no wild card contestant and that there was "no chance" that a contestant over the age of 25 would win that year. In fact, there was a wild card contestant that year (Diamond White, who came in fifth place), and the show's winner in 2012 was Tate Stevens, who was 37 at the time.
  • In 2012, Cowell also said in many interviews that Khloe Kardashian (who co-hosted the show with Mario Lopez from October to December 2012) would be a hit with "X Factor" viewers. We all know how that turned out: Kardashian got an avalanche of complaints from viewers for being a terrible host, and she was fired from the show. Lopez continues to host "The X Factor" U.S.

In the last few weeks of its third season in 2013, "The X Factor" U.S. has been getting dismal ratings. According to the Nielsen Company, the show's ratings have dipped at or below 5 million U.S. viewers per episode and has been ranked in the middle or in the lower half of all the U.S. prime-time shows every night it airs.

The third season finale of "The X Factor" U.S. is airing in two parts on Dec. 18 and Dec. 19, 2013. The three finalists competing for the Sony Music recording contract are boyfriend/girlfriend duo Alex & Sierra, rocker Jeff Gutt (whose "X Factor" mentor is Rowland) and Latin pop singer Carlito Olivero (whose "X Factor" mentor is Rubio).

Alex & Sierra, who are being mentored by Cowell, are widely predicted to win. The duo (Alex Kinsey and Sierra Deaton, both 22 years old) is the only "X Factor" U.S. contestant to hit No. 1 on the iTunes (U.S.) Top 100 Songs chart while still a contestant on the show. Alex & Sierra hit No. 1 on the chart with their cover versions of A Great Big World's "Say Something" and Sara Bareilles' "Gravity." They have also had several other of their "X Factor" performances on the iTunes (U.S.) Top 100 Songs chart. Gutt has also hit the Top 5 of the chart with his performance of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah."

It's the first time that "The X Factor" U.S. has had this much iTunes success with its contestants, but the way Cowell and company have been hyping it, they act like "The X Factor" is the only show to have this accomplishment, when in fact "American Idol" and "The Voice" have had No. 1 hits on this iTunes chart with several contestants long before "The X Factor" U.S. ever did.

Alex & Sierra's iTunes success may be one of the few selling points for Cowell to convince that Fox should renew "The X Factor" U.S., because the pathetic ratings are reason enough to cancel the show. Cowell and company have had three seasons to get it right, but every year, the show loses millions of viewers in double-digit percentages. It's obvious that a lot of things are wrong with the show, and too many viewers have stopped watching. Realistically, Fox cannot win back these viewers. And if Cowell wants to sell Fox on having "The X Factor" U.S. without him on the judging panel (Cowell is one of the few reasons why people are still watching the show), then he is really out of touch with what "X Factor" viewers want and the show is doomed to even bigger decreases in the ratings.

And here's an example of what's wrong with Cowell's outlook and how out of touch/in denial about why the show has lost millions of viewers. In the conference call, he said that the Four-Chair Challenge (a new format introduced this year) was one of the best-things about the show this year, when in fact most "X Factor" viewers said they hated the Four-Chair Challenge, and ratings declined ever more.

We can expect Cowell to pimp the hell out of Alex & Sierra until he no longer has any use for them, because right now, Alex & Sierra are the only kind of "success" that "The X Factor" U.S. can brag about in its third season, even though the ratings are in the toilet and the show has lost credibility in many other areas.

Alex & Sierra were part of the telephone conference call that Cowell did with the journalists on Dec. 16, 2013. Here is what they said:

Mr. Cowell, what did you think of this season overall? And have you been told that the show is coming back next season?

Cowell: I think the show started off OK. I thought the Four-Chair Challenge section of the show was terrific. I thought the early live shows were OK. And the last two weeks have been amazing.

I think the show – more than “think” – the show will be coming back next year. As to my role on it, I might have a different kind of role, we haven’t discussed that, yet. But as a series, particularly because this is a talent – and I’m biased, but it’s true – and because of what Alex and Sierra have achieved on iTunes over the last couple of weeks, which is phenomenal, I’ve never seen this happen with an artist, from a contestant. I’m really happy because the show is set up to achieve what it sets out to achieve, which is you find a star. So I’m really happy.

Simon, what do you think of Alex & Sierra’s potential beyond the show?

Cowell: I was with the guys yesterday. We were filming for the finale. I don’t like to talk about what’s outside of the show until we finish the show. Let’s put it this way. At one point last week, they had five records in the Top 10 on iTunes, so I would say they’ve got a pretty good shot outside the competition.

And you will continue with them?

Cowell: I’d be an idiot not to.

Alex and Sierra, what was the turning point for you on the show?

Kinsey: I think that “Give Me Love” was a really high point for us. We chose that song on our own, you know. It was our idea to do that song and it went over so well. I think that that was, kind of, when Simon started trusting us to make some good decisions on our own. I think that’s sort of been our thing this season is being able to make the decisions and being able to work with him as he’s allowed us to do. But I really think that “Give Me Love” was one of our higher points.

Deaton: Yes, I think that our main big moment was “Say Something,” because it was the first time we both got to sit down, play instruments, and just be artists that are just singing the music that they want to sing. The charts definitely reflected that it was a good decision. So I think, just in general, this season has been awesome and we’re really grateful that Simon has trusted us to make a lot of decisions, but also given us amazing guidance.

Alex and Sierra, what do you two remember from the first time you performed or played music together? When did you realize that you clicked musically as well as romantically?

Deaton: Well, the first time that we really played music together, Alex pretty much dragged me up on stage. And I didn’t really sing at all. I kind of did “oohs” and “aahs” behind him because I was just so nervous to be on stage. He would call me out and go, “Hey, everybody, my girlfriend’s coming up on stage!” But, I mean, romantically, we’ve definitely always known there was a connection between us. We would just kind of sing in the car together, and it would just be like that.

Kinsey: I think that our musical relationship has kind of evolved over time, especially in the last eight weeks, it’s really jumped forward in light speed. It’s been a fun ride.

Simon, you’ve had some amazing success with artists that haven’t won the competition. Is it necessary that people even win the competition? What advice do you give to Alex & Sierra if they don’t win?

Cowell: I always think you have an advantage if you win. I always think it’s best to be remembered as a winner rather than as the runner-up. It’s definitely more fun getting the gold than it is the silver. But me, personally, and I said this to the guys yesterday, I said for the show, basically because I produce the show and no disrespect to the other two, but I want the show to end with the best act winning the show. And you two are the best act in my opinion.

Kinsey: Thank you.

Deaton: Thanks.

Cowell: So it’s really important to me. It’s not life or death for the others, but I think you’d always want that kind of memory when you can look back on tape and say, “This is the moment I won ‘The X Factor.’” Because it is a big moment.

Do you have any plans to possibly work with Restless Road in the future?

Cowell: I think so, yes. In any one of these situations, you kind of let the fans decide for you, because if they’re going to really follow this group, they let you know. They did the same thing with me last season with Fifth Harmony. So they kind of make up our minds for us. There seems to be a lot of support for them. And they’re great guys, and they’re very talented, and I was disappointed they weren’t in the finals. I think they’ve got a future ahead of them. And they’re hard workers, as well, those three.

What was the last thing you learned from each other? Alex and Sierra, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned from Simon and vice versa?

Kinsey: I think that, as far as what we’ve learned from him, to be ourselves and to make sure that when we’re working with someone, we let them know what we think and what we want to do. Because it’s important that, when you’re in this sort of a situation, you have a say. We have to be able to sell the music that we’re performing.

We have to be able to be behind it and love it and perform the crap out of it. We can’t do that if we don’t love what we’re doing from the get-go. So that’s been a huge thing for us that we learned from him. Just to make sure that we’re vocal about what we want and to fight for it until we’re comfortable and happy with what we have.

Deaton: But also know how to compromise and take the advice of people around you that probably know a lot more than you do. We’ve learned how to stand up for ourselves, but also know how to compromise.

Cowell: For me, it was learning, actually, from them. A lot of the artists who they liked and they were listening to I’ve never heard of, to be honest with you. So it was a bit of an education for me, as well. I mean, I am a Brit, I don’t spend too much time over in America, so they introduced me to a lot of stuff which was fascinating to learn. And then I started to understand the kind of artists they should be, wanted to be. And I did trust them, and they have made some brilliant decisions.

I think there’s been one song this series which they were really unhappy singing, and it wasn’t too long ago. I saw the difference between a song they love and a song they didn’t like that much, because it was a little bit sulky. Now we only sing songs which they’re really happy with. For the finale, we’re really, really happy with the songs we’ve chosen. There’s going to be some surprises. I think they are going to be amazing.

Simon, you said earlier when you talked about the possibility of you having a “different kind of role next year.” Are you suggesting it’s possible that the show could come back, but you might not be a judge? You could just be in a producer role or something like that?

Cowell: I’m not necessarily saying that. I think that with the current landscape as it is — and there’s another music show, because we need another music show next year in America — we’re going to have a very, very crowded marketplace. What we have with “The X Factor” is a huge, core fan base that loves the show, but we’ve got to be more different next year than we were this year.

So we’re in the middle of a presentation to Fox to say this is what we think the show should look like, this is what we think the fans will like. And yes, my role could change on that show, but I can’t say any more than that.

Last season, you gave the voting rankings at the end of each results show. It was indicated at the beginning of this year that you were going to do the same, but then you never did. What happened and how did that change the show?

Cowell: I just think that we made a decision in the end that it was the wrong thing to do. We decided that we were going to allow our iTunes chart positions to be shown instead. You can actually have records in iTunes, but you don’t actually go into the charts. Now, I don’t know, because I genuinely don’t know, I haven’t got a clue, in fact, who has won each week. But I think the iTunes thing was probably a cooler way of doing it than having the leader board.

And if it was the same person every week, then I suppose it would have been boring. The good thing about not showing it was — actually, it wasn’t a good thing — but in terms of TV, is that I was convinced, convinced, Restless Road were going to be in the final. So something must have gone wrong before that.

How do you feel about “The X Factor” actually trailing behind “The Voice” in ratings right now?

Cowell: Thrilled. Love it. No, of course we’re not happy about it. But, you know, we’re all big boys here. When you run a record label, you run a TV company, sometimes you win, sometimes you’re in second or third place. But the great thing about our team is that it never gets us down. Everybody works that much harder.

The conversation we had was we haven’t opened with a huge number, we’ll probably keep that number, but let’s make a great series, and most importantly, let’s make some great records with the artists, because that’s what’s going to win the long-term battle. I’m never in this for the short term; I’m always in it for the long term.

Luckily, Alex and Sierra auditioned for the show — and I hope, please God, they with — because out of all the shows this year, in my opinion, they are by far the best artists to come through any of these shows. So that kind of makes up for being second place in the ratings, I guess.

Alex & Sierra, were you afraid the first time having to stand in front of Simon? Did you have any kind of preparation for if he said something blunt?

Deaton: Could you not tell that I was nervous the first time we saw Simon? I was freaking out! I think we had tried to prepare ourselves for standing in front of someone like Simon Cowell, but there’s really nothing you can do to prepare yourself, because once you step out onto that stage, it’s a completely different feeling. We had watched him on TV, but it’s completely different a few feet away from him. I think we just tried to live in the moment and be the best that we could. When we got such a good reaction, that’s why I couldn’t even finish the song, because I was so nervous singing in front of him. But it was definitely an awesome experience, and we’re so glad that he was the one that got to be our mentor.

Simon, do you think it’s a good thing or a bad thing that many Americans’ perceptions of the British are being shaped by you and Piers Morgan?

Cowell: Well, it’s bad for Piers and very good that it’s me, I think, yes. By the way, they have the same perception in England about Piers, so I wouldn’t worry about it.

Simon, in terms of your response about the ratings and you may be jumping into a different type of role, is there any chance, if you come back for another season, that the format could change to one night per week?

Cowell: Possibly, yes. I won’t say which night, but I think there’s a better night for us, which if we could get it would be amazing. I think the interesting thing about these shows over the years, and we were talking about this recently, is that they started off as one-hour shows, and now they’ve turned into two hours, two-and-a-half hours. I mean, that’s like watching a movie. Then you have a further hour the following day.

It is getting, probably, too much, and there is an advantage, which is where we started in the U.K., that the results and the performance show can be one show. It’s only because the shows got so popular that the network started to ask us to make the shows longer and longer and longer. I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing. I think that you can pack everything into two hours and I think it could work really well.

What do you think the chances are of coming back?

Cowell: Like I said, I think good, because it has a solid audience. What we’ve learned with these shows, which is very interesting, is that what you start with is pretty much what you end up with. But the secret is, is that what you can do in advance, in terms of publicity and marketing, etc., etc., that people know what’s coming, know what to expect.

And, obviously, you have to make a better show. We have, I think, 47 “X Factor”productions running around the world. In some countries, it dips a little bit, you make some changes, then it goes back to No. 1. So we’re kind of used to dealing with this.

If you do come back, would you want to keep the same judging panel?

Cowell: Probably not.

Do you have anyone in mind that you’d like to recruit?

Cowell: Yes.

Men or women or both?

Cowell: Human.

Sierra, you came in for some tough criticism from the judges. You seemed to dig down deep and come back from that. Can you talk about that? Where did you find that strength?

Deaton: I think the night that happened, I had to get all my emotions out. I pretty much cried. But, you know, we came here to get criticism. I think I just had to get it and get over it. I really wanted to prove to myself, and to the judges, but mostly myself that I can take it and I can come back stronger.

It just kind of got me … not angry, but I came back so hard that I wanted to prove that I deserve to be here, too, not just Alex. I think getting that criticism just motivated me and I’m actually glad I got it because I know now that I can take criticism on national TV and still come back stronger. So I just feel stronger as a person and not just an artist.

Kinsey: I also think that we watched that back that night and a few times, because we wanted to see what they were talking about. I honestly think the girls were wrong when they were calling out Sierra as strong as they did. I just think that they were wrong. I think that her seeing that, her seeing that actually it’s not as bad as they made it out to be really helped with her confidence a lot.

Simon, do you have anything else to add?

Cowell: Well, I agree, actually. I was thinking the night that happened, I mean, look, it wasn’t the end of the world, everyone gets criticism, but it was really kind of harsh. I could see what it was doing to Sierra and I said to the both of them that night what I was concerned about was I’ve seen artists have a knock like that and not recover. But she came back stronger. So maybe it was a good thing that it happened because both of them have been really, really consistent afterwards. They made their point.

Simon, what do you have to say about the music industry and the future of musical generations?

Cowell: Not an awful lot, other than to say I think it’s actually in very good shape right now. I think this has been one of the strongest years for a long, long time. Obviously, iTunes has revolutionized everything, made it easier to buy music, everyone’s carrying around at their pockets at the moment a music player, which you couldn’t do 20 to 30 years ago. But it’s always going to be about stars, charisma, songs, so I feel very, very confident. What do you think?

Simon, since you can’t say a lot about what the plans are for any changes taking place, but is there one change you would like to see happen with the show?

Cowell: Well, lots. Like I said, you know, we’ve been making these shows and different shows for a long, long time now. I think the thing you’ve got to be very careful about is, is that you don’t look and sound like everybody else. It was frustrating because “The X Factor” was on air before “The Voice,” and we created the whole mentors thing, where the judges become mentors. Then “The Voice” did the same thing on their show. But “The Voice” aired in America before “The X Factor,” and it looked like we were copying them. So you have to be aware of things like that happening.

You have to be really, really aware of what your audience wants or expects. And you’ve got to be different. And you’ve got to attract, most importantly, the best talent, because all these artists now have got a choice of what shows they can audition on. They can choose between us, “America’s Got Talent,” “Idol,” “The Voice.” So we, somehow, have to convince the best singers, actually, “The X Factor” is the best platform for you.

Alex and Sierra, what is the biggest challenge you’ve faced during the competition, and how have you overcome that?

Kinsey: I honestly think that just the amount of work that goes into it. Coming into it, you think, OK, you’ve got to learn a song here and there, you’ve got to learn a couple of songs every week, you’ve got to be prepared. But it’s a television show, too, you know, and there are a lot of interviews and there are a lot of things that go on that we didn’t really expect to come across.

I think that we were prepared for the music. I think that we were prepared to work hard and learn the songs and change them up and do our thing with them. We weren’t really prepared for just the amount of time that is spent on things that aren’t really as much music as you would think. You get tired after a while, physically. You get very tired.

Deaton: It’s a lot of work, but there’s nowhere else we’d rather be, so it’s awesome.

Simon, as a father-to-be, are you going to be as tough-loving with your son as you have been on “The X Factor”? How will you try to influence him?

Cowell: Well, I hope that I can have the same relationship I had with my dad. He wasn’t someone who was a great disciplinarian. I mean, we had a fun relationship. He gave me really constructive advice in my life, which I still carry today and I do pass on to other people. So if I can have the same relationship with my son as I had with my dad, then I think he’ll be very happy and I’ll be very happy.

Simon, you made reference to there being a number of these types of shows in the market in the U.S. Do you think that there are, at this point, too many music competition shows for the U.S. market to support?

Cowell: I think so, probably yes. But look, there’s nothing you can do about that. If what we were doing was successful, and it was, then other people are going to come along and compete. I don’t mind competition at all. I mean, the record business is the most competitive business in the world, probably. So I’m used to that. In a weird way, it kind of makes you work harder.

We’ll always find, like I said to an earlier caller, this is not a short-term business; it’s a long-term business. So bit by bit, you have to make your shows better. And of course you always want to be No. 1.

How long the market can sustain this amount of shows, I don’t know. But what’s interesting is, with all these shows doing so well, it’s now allowed comedy shows and dramas to do better. So you go through these cycles, and you know this better than I do, in entertainment. But there’s nothing you can do about it.

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