Simon Cowell on Britney Spears: 'She's Surprisingly Quite Mean'

Judge talks new season of 'The X Factor,' offers choice advice for Christina Aguilera

the x factor
Nino Munoz / FOX
Britney Spears, Simon Cowell, Demi Lovato and L.A. Reid
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Since hiring Britney Spears as one of the new judges on The X Factor, Simon Cowell's perception of the pop star has changed dramatically. "She's surprisingly quite mean and quite difficult to please," he told a group of reporters on a conference call Thursday afternoon. He offered up an analogy: "When you buy a dog you expect it to lick you," he said, "and then it turns out to bite you."

Cowell added that he's been pleased so far with Spears' performance on the reality-singing competition, which kicks off its second season next Wednesday on FOX. "She has taken this quite seriously," he said. "She's kind of fearless – very unpredictable. You never know what's gonna happen. I've grown to like her a lot."

Demi Lovato, the show's other new judge this season, joined Cowell on the call. She said she was also enthused to work with Spears, of whom she's been a longtime fan.

"I feel like the world really hasn't gotten a chance to see her personality over the past couple years," said the "Give Your Heart a Break" singer. "This is the perfect opportunity for people to really see the light inside of her just shine. She's very witty and funny and quirky. I just have such a good time working with her.  

Preview clips have depicted Cowell and Lovato as having something of a contemptuous relationship. The 20-year-old admitted she was initially put off by the longtime reality-show judge. "He's a bit of an asshole," she told Rolling Stone on Thursday evening at the MTV VMAs, "but backstage we get along great."

Photos: The First Season of The X Factor

Cowell explained that it was Lovato's youth, in addition to her risk-taking behavior that led to her hiring. "I think because the contestants are young, it's important we have [a judge] close to that age group," he said. "I have a habit of working with annoying people. Demi has definitely brought that again this year, in spades. But that's kind of what I expected. When I saw Demi a couple of years ago I thought she'd be interesting to work with – her coming through Disney, being sort of a rebel."

The 52-year-old was also frank about his displeasure at NBC's recently announced decision to extend The Voice to three nights every week, essentially pitting it against his show. "It's very simple: they don't want you to watch [The X Factor]," he offered. "I am pissed off about it. I think it's mean-spirited. And I hope and I pray that it backfires on them." When asked to respond to The Voice judge Christina Aguilera being unsure what longtime rival Spears has to offer as a judge, Cowell had some choice advice for the husky-voiced singer.

"Tell her to watch the show," he said. "She might learn something."

Should viewers expect any other changes this season on The X Factor? For one, Cowell says host Steve Jones will be replaced, likely by a duo. However, given the fact that the audition shows will not have a host, Cowell says he still hasn't made a final decision. "My gut feeling is we'll probably go with a boy and a girl who haven't had any hosting experience," he said. "I think that might make it more interesting.

"There's so much talking on these shows," he continued. "It's just too boring, as Ryan [Seacrest] demonstrated, for one person to say everything. You've got to mix it up a little bit."

Cowell also said viewers should expect more of a "reality" component to the show than in the past. "You'll see even more of the audition process," he explained. "Way more of how [the contestants] interact with each other, how they prepare. I found it fascinating to watch. There's an awful lot of bitchiness."