Skip to main content

See also:

Simon Cowell's shameful treatment of female 'X Factor' judges

Simon Cowell, Kelly Rowland, Paulina Rubio and Demi Lovato in 2013
Simon Cowell, Kelly Rowland, Paulina Rubio and Demi Lovato in 2013
Getty Images

Working in the entertainment industry isn't the exactly the most stable profession, but if you're a woman who works with Simon Cowell as a judge on "The X Factor," look out: You're likely to be fired, publicly humiliated and verbally abused by Cowell. However, he has no shortage of women who are willing to put up with this shameful treatment, and that's because these women apparently need the money. Money, however, cannot buy self-respect.

As creator/executive producer/co-owner of "The X Factor," Cowell is always the boss of "X Factor" judges. He also has the same role on the "Got Talent" franchise, which he created.

The fact of the matter is that most of the female judges on "The X Factor" U.K. and "The X Factor" U.S. (the two "X Factor" shows in the world that Cowell has been personally involved with the most) have been treated a lot worse than the male judges. Simply put: Most of the female judges have been fired. Meanwhile, the male judges who leave "The X Factor" almost always quit of their own will, usually because they say they're going to be too busy with other things in their career.

Cowell's track record for firing female hosts of "The X Factor" is also dismal. Most "X Factor" hosts are male. If they leave, it's usually because they quit. The only female host of "The X Factor" U.K. was Kate Thornton, who was with the show from 2004 to 2006 until she was fired. She was replaced by Dermot O'Leary, who has been hosting the show since 2007.

On "The X Factor" U.S., Khloe Kardashian co-hosted the show for just two months in 2012 before she too was fired. Kardashian (who had no previous experience hosting a TV show) was so inept and unprofessional, and she got so many viewer complaints, that her firing was inevitable. However, Cowell made the dumb decision to hire her in the first place, based on the sexed-up "Kardashian image," not on any real talent or experience that she had.

Steve Jones, who hosted "The X Factor" U.S. in 2011, was the rare male "X Factor" host who got fired. He was axed along with judges Nicole Scherzinger and Paula Abdul. However, Mario Lopez, who hosted "The X Factor" U.S. in 2012 and 2013, got to keep his job until the show was cancelled.

Cowell has been a judge on "The X Factor" U.K. and "The X Factor" U.S., and anyone who's seen how he treats the female judges on the show should not be surprised that he ends up firing most of them.

Cowell's attitude is clear: He treats female judges (especially ones who are younger than he is) as if they are either horny brats, catty and jealous divas or dumb and emotionally unstable harpies if they disagree with him. Male judges who disagree with Cowell are treated more like intellectual equals.

A sexist accusation that Cowell often throws at female "X Factor" judges is that they are jealous of female contestants who are talented and pretty. This accusation has been proven false time and again with female "X Factor" judges showing tremendous support for attractive and talented female contestants over the years. On the flip side, Cowell also likes to accuse female "X Factor" judges of being more lenient to attractive male contestants who don't have much talent.

What Cowell conveniently forgets in these sexist accusations is that if any "X Factor" contestants make it to the live episodes because of their looks more than their talent, it's usually because male and female judges chose to put them there, not just the female judges. Cowell himself did this plenty of times on "The X Factor" U.S. and U.K., and he would make the excuse that "The X Factor" doesn't only judge contestants on their singing talent, but how they look and perform on stage also count for a lot in the judges' decisions.

In fact, it can be argued that Cowell has been the most superficial "X Factor" judge of all, since he's the judge most likely to criticize a contestant for how he or she looks or what the contestant is wearing.

To make matters worse with the sexist way that Cowell tends to treat female "X Factor" judges, Cowell has admitted that he has had sexual affairs with at least two female "X Factor" judges: Dannii Minogue and Natalie Imbruglia. Even though these affairs were between consenting adults, there's still something sleazy about a boss who uses his or her power to sexually seduce employees. We've all seen it happen, and it usually does not end well for the employee, who is usually female in situations like these. The female employee usually ends up getting fired or quits, while the male boss keeps his job and moves on to his next sexual conquests.

Imbruglia, who was a judge on "The X Factor" Australia in 2010, was fired and has not worked for Cowell again. In the 2012 biography "Sweet Revenge: The Intimate Life of Simon Cowell," Cowell admitted he tried to get Imbruglia to sleep with him again in 2011, after their affair ended, but she refused.

Minogue has had a more complicated relationship with Cowell. She's been a lot like Cowell's harem of other ex-girlfriends: They stay in his life because they depend on him for money. Although Minogue has her own fashion line, most of her income comes from working for Cowell on his TV shows.

Minogue was a judge on "The X Factor" U.K. from 2007 to 2010. Then she was fired from the show (although she claims she quit), but she kept her job as a judge on "Australia's Got Talent" from 2007 to 2012. She became a judge on "The X Factor" Australia in 2013. And in case people forgot, Minogue is also a singer, but considering that she hasn't released an album since 2007 and hasn't toured in years, it's obvious that "singer" isn't her main profession in recent years.

Minogue is an example of how Cowell moves around his female "X Factor" judges like pawns in a chess game. The male "X Factor" judges are not treated this way. Minogue, Nicole Scherzinger, Mel B, Sharon Osbourne, Kelly Rowland and Cheryl Cole are just some of the "X Factor" judges whom Cowell has shuffled back and forth between his shows.

Let's look at the facts and what happened to the judges on "The X Factor" U.K. and "The X Factor" U.S.

Dannii Minogue and Sharon Osbourne

History of employment with Cowell:

Dannii Minogue: "The X Factor" U.K. judge from 2007 to 2010; "Australia's Got Talent" judge from 2007 to 2012; "X Factor" Australia judge from 2013 to present.

Sharon Osbourne: "The X Factor" U.K. judge from 2004 to 2007; "America's Got Talent" judge from 2007 to 2012; "X Factor" U.K. judge in 2013.

From 2004 to 2006, the judges on "The X Factor" U.K. were Cowell, Louis Walsh and Sharon Osbourne. Minogue joined the show's judging panel in 2007. Cowell began sleeping with Minogue around this time, according Osbourne, who dished details in her 2013 memoir "Unbreakable." (Keep in mind that Cowell was still living with Terri Seymour at the time he had a fling with Minogue, but Cowell is the first to admit that he has cheated on many of his lovers.)

According to Osbourne, Minogue began acting like a haughty diva because Minogue was "f*cking the boss" (Osbourne's words), and that led to personality clashes between Minogue and Osbourne. The way Osbourne saw it, Minogue probably would not have had such a bad attitude and a false sense of power if Minogue hadn't been sleeping with Cowell. Minogue gave her version of events in her 2010 memoir "My Story," by saying that Osbourne was argumentative and difficult. Minogue has not publicly commented on her affair with Cowell.

When Osbourne and Minogue worked together in 2007, Osbourne told Cowell that she could no longer work with Minogue, and he had to choose to keep either her or Minogue on "The X Factor." When he refused to choose, Osbourne quit the show. Osbourne said that she felt that Cowell secretly liked all the publicity that the Minogue/Osbourne catfighting was getting.

Minogue would eventually be moved around to other shows run by Cowell (see details above), and her affair with Cowell ended before she hooked up with rugby-player-turned-model Kris Smith in 2008. Smith and Minogue (who never married) had a son named Ethan in 2010, but the couple split up in 2012.

Osbourne (who is a longtime music manager) has said in interviews that she quit "The X Factor" U.K. because she didn't like Minogue, she was not comfortable with how Cowell handled the conflicts between her and Minogue, and she felt that Cowell would eventually fire her and replace with her with someone younger and prettier. Osbourne moved on to being a judge on "America's Got Talent" from 2007 to 2012. Osbourne has also been hosting "The Talk" since the show's 2010 debut.

Even though Osbourne said that she would never go back to being a judge on "The X Factor," she changed her mind and returned to "The X Factor" U.K. judging panel in 2013, when she mentored winning contestant Sam Bailey. In her memoir "Unbreakable," Osbourne said she returned to "The X Factor" U.K. in 2013 for "closure," because she did not like how she left the show in 2007. Osbourne also insisted that 2013 would really be her last year as an "X Factor" judge because "The Talk" is her favorite job, and she no longer wants to commute back and forth between the U.K. and U.S. to do both shows.

Osbourne is one of the few female judges who has escaped the firing wrath of Cowell. But that's probably because she's older than Cowell and has more experience in the music business than he does. And most importantly, unlike a lot of the younger female judges who let Cowell use and manipulate them, Osbourne has proven time and again that she's tough and does not take a lot of crap, except from her husband, Ozzy, who has been her biggest client since she began managing him in 1979. Sharon has gone public many times with details about her and Ozzy's volatile relationship; she has admitted they have often abused each other physically and emotionally.

Louis Walsh and Gary Barlow

History of employment with Cowell:

Louis Walsh: "The X Factor" U.K. judge from 2004 to present

Gary Barlow: "The X Factor" U.K. judge from 2011 to 2013 (He replaced Cowell on the show's judging panel.)

Compared to all the drama surrounding Osbourne and Minogue, Walsh and Barlow had it relatively easy. Yes, Walsh was briefly fired from "The X Factor" U.K. in 2007 (and replaced by choreographer Brian Friedman), but Walsh was quickly rehired after a few episodes. According to the Cowell biography "Sweet Revenge," Walsh got his "X Factor" job back after doing a lot of groveling to Cowell and agreeing to do things like lose weight and get plastic surgery to look younger.

Walsh is the only person who has been a judge on "The X Factor" U.K. since the show's 2004 debut. Compared to the female judges on the show, he's had a lot more job security. And even though every year, Walsh announces that he might quit "The X Factor," it all appears to be a ploy for attention and contract negotiations, because he has stayed on the show, year after year.

Now more than ever, Walsh needs his "X Factor" job. He is no longer a high-powered manager in the music business. He used to represent Westlife (the group disbanded in 2012), Boyzone and Girls Aloud. Now, his biggest client is Jedward, the twin brothers who were "X Factor" U.K. contestants in 2009 and have had declining music sales in recent years. So don't expect Walsh to leave "The X Factor" U.K. anytime soon. He's like the "X Factor" judge who cries wolf every time he threatens to quit.

As for Barlow, he and Cowell have admittedly had their share of conflicts, but ultimately Barlow was not fired. Cowell reportedly tried to fire Barlow in 2012, but ITV bosses intervened because they wanted to keep Barlow on the show. In the end, Barlow quit on his own. He announced that 2013 was his last year as a judge on the show because he wanted to focus on his music career, which includes a new Take That album and tour.

In 2014, Cowell is filling the spot vacated by Barlow on "The X Factor" U.K. judging panel.

Cheryl Cole and Tulisa Contostavlos

History of employment with Cowell:

Cheryl Cole: "The X Factor" U.K. judge from 2008 to 2010; "The X Factor" U.S. judge in 2011 (She was fired after just a few weeks on the job.)

Tulisa Contostavlos: "The X Factor" U.K. judge from 2011 to 2012

If you want an example of Cowell's shameful treatment of a female "X Factor" judge, then look no further than Cole, who replaced Sharon Osbourne on "The X Factor" U.K.

Cole was married during most of the time that she worked with Cowell, but Cowell admitted in "Sweet Revenge" that he lusted after Cole and probably would have slept with her if she hadn't been married. Cole, however, resisted any sexual advances that Cowell may have made on her. He smugly implied that she would have given in to having an affair with him but she wanted to remain faithful to her husband. It's yet another example of Cowell being a lecherous boss.

According to Cole in her 2012 memoir "Cheryl: My Story," Cowell ordered her to leave "The X Factor" U.K. and go with him to Los Angeles be a judge on "The X Factor" U.S.

Her reward for that loyalty? She was fired from "The X Factor" U.S. after just a few weeks on the job and after doing only four audition dates on the show. In 2011, shortly after Cowell fired Cole, he announced to the media that he took "full responsibility" for firing her. Cole and Cowell have both said that that only reason why she was fired was because he wanted her back on "The X Factor" U.K. judging panel. Cole refused, and so she was fired. Cole also turned down Cowell's offer to be a judge on "Britain's Got Talent." Cole has denied reports that she was fired from "The X Factor" because of her Geordie accent or because she was uncomfortable being on American TV.

In her memoir, Cole said that Cowell (whom she considered a friend) was so cowardly in firing her that he sent his minion Richard Holloway to tell her the bad news instead of having the guts to tell her in person himself. And although Cowell and Cole began speaking to each other again after months of estrangement, their relationship was never the same. Cole said many times in interviews, in her memoir and on Twitter that she never wanted to work with Cowell again.

In 2013, Cole settled a $2.3 million lawsuit that she filed in 2012 against "The X Factor" U.S. for non-payment of salary. Cole's "X Factor" U.S. contract stated that she was to be paid for two seasons, even if she got fired. Cole claimed in the lawsuit that she was only paid for one season. Terms of the the settlement were not disclosed to the public.

In 2014, rumors once again surfaced that Cole was in talks to return to "The X Factor" U.K., but this time, she would be working with Cowell again as a judge on the panel. If Cole takes the job, it would be insane, but it would not be the first time that Cowell has used money to lure women back in into his life, only to continue to manipulate and disrespect them.

Contostavlos, the N-Dubz singer who replaced Cole on "The X Factor" U.K., was fired from the show. The reasons for her firing were never made clear, but her tardiness, Twitter feuds and fading popularity (her memoir and first solo album flopped) all could have been factors.

And even though tabloids reported for months that Contostavlos was getting fired and replaced by Sharon Osbourne, Contostvalos denied it repeatedly and even gave an interview to the Daily Mirror saying that she personally met with Cowell, who led her to believe she was not getting fired. Not long after Contostavlos gave that interview, Cowell announced in a Radio Times interview that she was fired. How embarrassing.

Since her "X Factor" firing, Contostavlos' life has been on a downward spiral. She and her rapper friend Mike GLC (real name: Michael Coombs) were arrested in June 2013 on felony charges of selling cocaine to an undercover reporter for The Sun. Contostavlos and Coombs pled not guilty during a court appearance in January 2014. Contostavlos has kept a low profile since the arrest. She is scheduled to go to trial in July 2014, but court dates are always subject to change.

Nicole Scherzinger, Paula Abdul and Kelly Rowland

History of employment with Cowell:

Nicole Scherzinger: "The X Factor" U.S. judge in 2011; "The X Factor" U.K. judge from 2012 to 2013

Paula Abdul: "The X Factor" U.S. judge in 2011

Kelly Rowland: "The X Factor" U.K. judge in 2011; "The X Factor" U.S. judge in 2013

Before Scherzinger and Abdul became full-time judges on "The X Factor," they had worked with Cowell. Scherzinger was a guest judge on "The X Factor" U.K. in 2010. Abdul worked with Cowell on "American Idol" from 2002 to 2009.

Scherzinger was originally chosen to co-host "The X Factor" U.S. with Steve Jones. (Footage of them co-hosting the show was never televised.) But after Cole was abruptly fired, Scherzinger stepped in to replace her. Cowell then proceeded to verbally abuse Scherzinger and Abdul on the show, and acted like they were hysterical idiots if they disagreed with him. Cowell is known for being rude, but his level of disrespect for Scherzinger and Abdul was very uncomfortable to watch for millions of viewers, who began tuning out and stopped watching the show, which never recovered from its steady decline in ratings in its three years on the air.

Abdul, Scherzinger and Jones were all fired from "The X Factor" U.S. after its first season, although Scherzinger later claimed in interviews that she wasn't fired. No one really believed her.

Rowland (who is a former member of Destiny's Child) joined "The X Factor" U.K. to replace Minogue. Rowland reportedly had personality clashes with Contostavlos and Walsh. Rowland's "X Factor" U.K. contract was not renewed, reportedly because the show would not meet her salary demands. Rowland has since denied that she was fired and has said in interviews that she left "The X Factor" U.K. because she wanted to focus on working on her fourth solo album.

However, the reality is if your contract is not renewed because your employer did not want to give you the raise that you asked for, then that means you were fired. Also, when people quit a high-profile job like "The X Factor," they announce it around the time that they leave the show, but Rowland never did that. While it was being reported in the media that she was ousted from the show, she remained silent and did not comment until months later when she gave her version of events.

In 2012, Scherzinger joined "The X Factor" U.K. to replace Rowland. Not working with Cowell on the judging panel seemed to have done wonders for her self-esteem, because in her first year she was a judge on the show, she mentored the top two contestants: James Arthur (winner) and Jahmene Douglas (second place). In 2013, Scherzinger didn't do as well on the show: She finished last among the four judges, since her highest-ranking contestant was Tamera Foster, who came in fifth place.

In 2014, several media outlets reported that Scherzinger had left "The X Factor." As of this writing, she has not commented on these reports, but Cowell seems to have made the announcement for her when he tweeted on Feb. 13, 2014: "Nicole will always be a part of the X factor family. Now signed to Sony as an artist. Thank you Nicole for everything ... And I hope to share some very very exciting news with you next week."

The circumstances with Scherzinger's exit don't look like it is entirely voluntary on her part. Whenever Cowell has announced the exit of one of his employees, and the former employee is not commenting or waits a long time to comment, it usually means the split was not very amicable.

Meanwhile, Rowland signed up for more of Cowell's humiliation when she became a judge on "The X Factor" U.S. in 2013. He proceeded to belittle her and the other female judges on the show. For example, he would call them degrading gender-based insults such as "witches" if they disagreed with him.

However, Rowland must have been desperate to stay in Cowell's good graces because even after Cowell told the media that he wanted to replace all of the female judges on "The X Factor" U.S. in 2014, Rowland (who clearly could not take the hint that Cowell wanted to fire her) told the media she wanted to keep being a judge on the show if they asked her to stay. In the end, it didn't matter, because "The X Factor" U.S. was cancelled.

Antonio "L.A." Reid

History of employment with Cowell: "The X Factor" U.S. judge from 2011 to 2012

Reid and Cowell would sometimes argue on the show, but Cowell treated him very differently than he did the female judges. Whenever Cowell clashed with the female judges, he would usually treat them in a condescending, sexist manner by implying that he was smarter than they are because he's a man who can control his emotions.

No matter how angry Reid would get with Cowell or anyone else, Cowell never implied that Reid's judgment was wrong because he was letting his emotions get the better of him, which is an accusation that Cowell constantly levels at female judges who work with him. He never accused Reid of being "ditzy" or "hysterical."

Reid quit "The X Factor" because he said he wanted to focus on his job as chairman/CEO of Epic Records. He is yet another example of a male "X Factor" judge who was allowed to quit the show instead being fired by Cowell.

Britney Spears, Demi Lovato and Paulina Rubio

History of employment with Cowell:

Britney Spears: "The X Factor" U.S. judge in 2012

Demi Lovato: "The X Factor" U.S. judge from 2012 to 2013

Paulina Rubio: "The X Factor" U.S. judge in 2013

Spears, who replaced Abdul on "The X Factor" U.S., was the biggest and most expensive mistake the show made in its three years on the air. In terms of her reported $15 million "X Factor" salary, Spears was a complete and utter failure, if her purpose for being on the show was to boost ratings. She was often called "dull" and "robotic" by viewers and critics. And worse, ratings went down after she became a judge on the show.

Because of Spears' history of mental instability and emotional breakdowns, Cowell wasn't that hard on her and didn't subject her to a lot of his verbal abuse, probably because he didn't want to be blamed in case she had another meltdown. But by the end of 2012, it was clear that Cowell and company wanted to get rid of her. Reports surfaced that Spears had been fired (her contract was not renewed; same difference), but after those reports, Spears tried to save face by saying that she was leaving the show to focus on her music career. Whether she quit or was fired, it was obvious that she fell out of Cowell's favor, and he's pretty much confirmed that disenchantment in interviews where he admitted that hiring Spears for "The X Factor" was a mistake.

Lovato (who replaced Scherzinger) and Cowell clashed from the beginning. The first year that they worked together, their bickering seemed cute. By the second year, their arguments turned very ugly and mean-spirited. There's no need to rehash all the verbal crap they threw at each other, but the lowest points were when Cowell would insult Lovato (who is bipolar, a recovering drug addict/alcoholic and a recovering self-harmer) by poking fun at her medical conditions. He would make thinly veiled references to Lovato being "crazy." And in a humiliating send-off in the show's Season 3 finale in 2013, he approved a video to be shown that cruelly made fun of Lovato by portraying her as being addicted to "Annoying Juice." It was a low blow to inflict on someone who is a recovering alcoholic.

Suffice to say, even though Lovato and Cowell both insulted each other on "The X Factor," Cowell was her boss, and he would always have the power in their relationship. So when he announced to the media in December 2013 that he wanted to replace (in other words, fire) all of the female judges on "The X Factor" U.S., Lovato announced a few days later that she was quitting "The X Factor" to focus on her music career.

As for Rubio (who replaced Reid), it's obvious to anyone who watched "The X Factor" U.S. in 2013 that Cowell didn't really respect her and he was going to fire her. He never got the chance because the Fox network fired Cowell by cancelling "The X Factor" U.S.

Any female judge who will be working with Cowell on "The X Factor" U.K. in 2014 or beyond should be prepared for three things: She will be subjected to Cowell's sexist insults and other disrespect from Cowell; he will play mind games with her about her job security; and she will probably be fired.