An American version of the hit British music competition show The X Factor is officially coming to Fox in the fall of 2011, and as expected American Idol's Simon Cowell will also serve as the new show's judge and executive producer in its debut season. But the news is bittersweet for Idol fans: Cowell will exit American Idol after this season, the show's ninth, to focus solely on X Factor, according to Variety.
During a TV Critics Association press tour today, Cowell signed the papers that make his departure official in front of the press. As Rolling Stone previously reported, it was widely speculated that Cowell would leave AI after this season, but his exit comes on the heels of another major staffing change at the show. Last summer, Paula Abdul left Idol after failed contract negotiations. Ellen DeGeneres will fill Abdul's vacant seat at the judges' table, but replacing Cowell will be a much harder — and possibly even impossible — task for producers moving into the 2011 season, when potentially only DeGeneres, Randy Jackson and Kara DioGuardi will remain.
Meanwhile, rumors are already swirling that Abdul is in talks to judge on X Factor, which would air during the fall while American Idol would be broadcast winter/spring so to not overlap. So You Think You Can Dance will bridge the summer months. Cowell added that he thinks both X Factor and Idol will flourish despite his departure, and that he wouldn't have left Idol if he felt X couldn't match the top-rated success it already has in his native Great Britain.
Cowell made a similar move in the U.K. in 2003, when he left Pop Idol — the basis for American Idol — because he wanted to executive produce his own show, The X Factor. The latter is a similar music competition program that helped launch the career of Leona Lewis and was responsible for four consecutive U.K. Christmas Number One singles until a grassroots campaign supporting Rage Against the Machine put an end to the streak in 2009. After Cowell left Pop Idol, the show went on permanent hiatus. Fox Entertainment chairman Peter Rice said it was "incumbent" for the network that American Idol remains successful despite Cowell's departure.
Although Cowell judges on two shows in the U.K., Britain's Got Talent and The X Factor, he won't be pulling the same double duty in the U.S. Also, by the time Idol ends in 2010 and X Factor begins in 2011, Cowell is expected to be off American airwaves for approximately 16 months, so X Factor will be welcomed with a massive audience anticipating the return of the sardonic judge.
"I'm thrilled that we have put a date on the launch of the U.S. version of The X Factor, and delighted to be continuing to work with Fox," Cowell said in a statement. "We have a fantastic relationship, a great team and are all very excited about this."
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