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Do you have what it takes to be a star?

“You are totally pathetic.” “You are just dreadful... the worst singer in the world... absolutely pathetic.” These are just some of the kind words performers hear from Simon Cowell, the ‘cheeky’ British judge on the hit TV show, “American Idol.” And now Cowell takes fans behind the scenes at “American Idol,” and tells what he really thinks about some of the biggest names in the

“You are totally pathetic.” “You are just dreadful... the worst singer in the world... absolutely pathetic.” These are just some of the kind words performers hear from Simon Cowell, the ‘cheeky’ British judge on the hit TV show, “American Idol.” And now Cowell takes fans behind the scenes at “American Idol,” and tells what he really thinks about some of the biggest names in the music industry in his dishy tell-all, titled, “I Don’t Mean to Be Rude, But ... Idol Backstage Gossip and the Secrets that Can Make You a Star.” Cowell discusses the book on “Today.” Here's an excerpt:

JUST LIKE 38 million other people, I was watching when Ruben Studdard was crowned as the second American Idol in June of 2003. The only difference is that I was 10 yards away from Ruben rather than miles away, watching him in person rather than on television. And there’s also the small fact of what the selection meant to me. I didn’t care if Ruben won or if Clay won; I didn’t care a bit. But the fact that so many people were voting to make the selection meant the world to me, because it proved me right. I had been part of American Idol since before anyone had heard of Ruben or Clay, or Kelly or Justin, or Paula and Randy.

So maybe I wasn’t just like those 38 million other people. Maybe I was a little different.

I don’t mean to be rude, but . . . since the birth of American Idol, people have expected nothing less of me. You see, I have become famous for being rude. At first, I was “the British one,” but in short order I became “the obnoxious one,” “the opinionated one,” or “the brutal one.” Well, in my mind, I’m the honest one.

That’s all. On American Idol, I have only ever said whatever I’m thinking at the time. That’s the only way I can describe what I’m doing. My statements are genuine. Nothing is rehearsed. When a woman walks in to audition, I might think, “God, she’s ugly.”

And this, as luck would have it, is the one show on television where I can actually say, “God, you’re ugly.” Since the show’s rise to popularity in America, I have witnessed a strange phenomenon: In the street, people will come up to me and say “Will you criticize me?” Apparently, it’s a strange badge of honor to be insulted by me. It seems like a masochistic pastime, frankly, but I’m happy to oblige.

The tone of my comments is part of the entertainment. Without it, American Idol wouldn’t be half as much fun, either for me or for the viewers. But there’s a subtler point behind my honesty — or, if you must be so thin-skinned — my rudeness. The music industry is a culture awash with sycophants and yes-men. There’s far too much decorum and protocol. I can’t see the point of that. When it comes down to it, the industry should do only one thing: find out who is really marketable and why. The rest is wasted time and wasted breath. And today, the record business is harder to break into than ever before. Labels are less willing to invest money in a new artist unless they have something really special to offer — like Justin Timberlake, whose romantic relationship with Britney Spears guaranteed loads of publicity and a surefire road to fame. That’s why I prefer to cut through the white lies and the bullshit. My harsh criticism may be tough on some people, but in the main it tends to have a positive effect.

Once the initial shock passes, people want to know how they’re perceived by an audience, and especially a member of the audience who is experienced, articulate, and able to understand what might improve that perception. Most important, it separates the wannabes from the real stars, and does so as swiftly and uncomfortably as possible. We set out to make a show that honestly reflects the music business. And trust me — the record industry is not nice.

If you have bought this book, you are probably already familiar with my personality and the fact that it gets results. I have made millions from taking beginners with raw talent and, through coaching and brutal honesty, turning those hopefuls into global pop stars. With this book, you’ll be able to start the diffcult but rewarding process of ascertaining whether or not you’re one of the lucky few who can make it.

Part of this book is my story. It has to be: For starters, I’m very interesting, and I’m enough of an egotist to be honest about that. My story has lessons for anyone who sets his or her eye on fame. I’ll take you behind the scenes of the music industry and give you the real scoop on what it takes to make it to the top, based on my own career and on the careers that I have guided. Because I’m the ultimate insider on American Idol, I’ll be able to tell you the real truth about what happens backstage on the show: about the rivalries and the alliances; about the image makeovers that worked and the ones that didn’t (does anyone remember — shudder — Clay Aiken in leather?); about me and Paula Abdul. But mainly about me.

Most importantly, I’ll share some secrets with you about talent, about how to recognize it and cultivate it. You’ll learn how to develop your skills-assuming you have any to begin with — and how to handle an audition and stand out from the crowd. And I won’t hold back when it comes to established pop stars: Some of them are falling fast, and I’ll say so; I’ll also explain which ones I’d send packing if they auditioned for American Idol. There isn’t any substitute for talent, unless of course you have a famous dad like Julio Iglesias, in which case it doesn’t matter that you can’t sing a note. But even if you have all the talent in the world — and almost no one does — you can’t make it to the top without the right guidance. By “the right guidance,” of course, I mean my guidance.

Let me explain with a short example. Back in the early nineties, I set my sights on signing Robson Green and Jerome Flynn, two relatively unknown actors from a successful British TV series called Soldier Soldier. My reasoning was pretty straightforward: They were good-looking, they could sing (a bit), and they had already built up an enormous female fan base from their television show. I phoned them three times a day, every day, for seven months, saying that I would guarantee them a number-one hit if they would record a song with me. They consistently ignored my advances — until, that is, I ordered them a six-figure sum that they could keep whether they had a hit record or not.

Not surprisingly, they accepted my offer. Robson and Jerome’s first single was a remake of the classic Righteous Brothers song “Unchained Melody.” It sold over two million copies in the first two weeks of its release and went on to become the U.K.’s biggest-selling single of the 1990s. That was followed by two more number-one singles and two number-one albums, and by the time Robson and Jerome returned to their acting careers two years later, they were multimillionaires.

People like Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson like to talk about the importance of self-confidence. Believe in yourself, they’ll say ad nauseam — especially if they’re making a promotional appearance on Oprah. I won’t deny that confidence is an important part of stardom. But I believe in something even more important — what I call the X Factor. This is that indefinable quality that sets you apart from other ambitious young people, some of whom can sing, some of whom can dance, and all of whom want to see their name in lights. The X Factor draws people to you and translates to real star power. It’s also somewhat beyond your control. Madonna had it, of course, and all the American Idols — Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard, and Clay Aiken — have had it. Even though each developed as a talent and gained more confidence as the show progressed, they all possessed an innate charisma that drew the audience to them the minute they started singing. What I hope for during the audition process of American Idol is to find that one person who has the X Factor, and then to help guide them to great stardom. I’m sure that I can do it, and I’m sure that if the show casts a wide enough net, we can find that person. But the X Factor is also vital to anyone who aspires to stardom. You either have it or you don’t, and you’re not going to be the one who is able to determine that. Someone else has to tell you-someone candid, someone unsparing, and maybe someone British. Self-knowledge is far more important than self-confidence.

When I was initially offered the chance to be a judge on the first American Idol, I actually turned it down. I helped develop the concept in Britain, where it was called Pop Idol, but I figured that the national difference was everything. I was British, and I felt that Americans would never want a British guy to sit there and pass judgment on American talent. Everyone thought I was mad to turn down such an opportunity. In the end, I recanted and decided to judge. Maybe the amount of money had something to do with it, but I also came to the realization that it didn’t matter a fig if I was British. Even before Pop Idol I had been judging talent for more than twenty-five years. The bands I produced had sold more than ninety million records. Clearly there was no one better suited to judge American Idol than me. See, there I go, doing exactly what Randy and Paula said I should do. I’m believing in myself.

Believing in yourself, though, sometimes means shutting out what others say about you. Many celebrities make the fatal mistake of reading their press, absorbing it, and then starting to shift their own ideas about themselves on the basis of what fans and critics say about them. Michael Jackson, if you’re reading this book, I’m talking about you. But I’m also talking about me, to some degree. About a month into the first season of American Idol, I found that I was a celebrity in ways that I could never have predicted. I was invited onto The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. I did the Letterman show. Wherever I went, I was instantly recognized and mobbed by people.

Then, partly because I was curious and partly because I am an eternal egotist, I made the mistake of logging on to the American Idol Web site and going to the Judges section, where fans can leave messages for us. I was absolutely horrified. There were hundreds of nasty comments about me. I began searching desperately to see if anyone had anything nice to say about me. They didn’t. It was as if I were reading about Leona Helmsley, or Pol Pot, or any other of history’s great monsters. The more I read, the more I began to believe the terrible things that people were saying. Here are a few examples of the nasty comments from the Web site:

To say Simon is just plain mean is an understatement. I think he’s mean, brutal, totally ruthless, and a complete pain in the ass. He’s rude, arrogant, and way over the top. Let’s write to Fox and have him deported back to England.

Hey-you all-why is Simon Cowell so sarcastic and degrading to just about every contestant on the show? Is he really like this in real life? If American Idol is supposed to be reality TV, then maybe he needs to give himself a reality check-his comments just stink. Simon-you are the most egotistical, rude, and bad mannered Brit I have ever heard. Every week you insult the cream of America’s home-grown talent. You need to go back to Britain and get a brain scan because you don’t know a good singer when you hear one. I hope that someday one of the contestants physically attacks you.

And people say I’m rude.

The next week on the show, I realized that these comments were starting to influence the way I was behaving. In short, I was behaving. I was observing myself at a distance, trying to be more judicious than usual, even saying kind things that I didn’t exactly mean, but that I rationalized as important to building the confidence of these budding young entertainers. At one point I found myself agreeing with Paula. That was the last straw. In my eagerness to offset some of the dreadful comments, I had lost the edge that made the show work. There is a lesson here for all of you-especially you, Ryan Seacrest. You can believe in yourself, but that doesn’t mean persisting with an unrealistic view of your talents.

At the same time, it doesn’t mean letting the unwarranted opinions of others change your course. (This may sound hypocritical, especially for someone who is probably best known for delivering opinions of others, but it’s important to see the distinction between my weekly comments on the show and the moaning of a few disgruntled viewers. The key, as I have said, is unwarranted opinions. And when it comes to judging talent, at least, I’m always right.)

In today’s celebrity-obsessed world, every youngster wants to be famous. Who wouldn’t? The crazy excesses of stars like J.Lo and P. Diddy make for fascinating reading and inspire thousands of would-be pop stars to run out and hire a voice coach. J.Lo, in particular, embodies the American Dream: Her rags-to-riches story proves that anyone can do great things with hard work, talent, and a little luck. With charisma, charm, and that elusive X Factor, J.Lo has been able to achieve unparalleled success in both her singing and acting careers (Gigli aside). And anyone who can make light of herself by saying, “You can serve coffee using my rear as a ledge” is fine by me. If you are an aspiring P. Diddy, however, you should remember that you won’t just have to buy nice suits. You’ll also have to see to it that your initials are sewn onto every sheet, pillowcase, and white suede chair that adorns your home. Sad.

All joking aside, the problem is that most people don’t understand that to be successful in the music business you have to first have talent. It’s not enough to come to an audition with stars in your eyes, dreamily contemplating your own inevitable rise to fame. It’s not enough to come to an audition with a costume or an attitude. People will do the strangest things just to hide the fact they are completely and utterly talentless.

Before the first season of American Idol ever aired, we came to New York for auditions, and the first person through the door introduced himself as “Milk.” The second I heard that name, I thought to myself, “Okay, we may have a problem here.” Then there was the fact that he looked like Clark Kent, if Clark Kent had been stupid enough to wear a bandanna around his head.

First impressions count in this business: You can either confirm them or contradict them, but they count. In this case, he confirmed them, with spectacular incompetence. He sang, or tried to sing, a version of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” interspersed with Vietnamese war footage that he acted out — or rather, overacted out. When he was finished, I turned to Randy and said, “What do you think?”

“Well, I’m not sure,” Randy said.

Not sure? How could he not be sure? I was so mad that I thought about standing up, walking out, and letting Randy judge the competition on his own. It was obvious to anyone with half a brain that the guy was terrible, just awful, and he needed to be told as much. So I told him.

In the second season, during the Austin, Texas, auditions, some other idiot walked in wearing a yellow suit. He looked like a gigantic banana — and, like a gigantic banana, he couldn’t sing a note. He was followed by a guy dressed as a lizard. For future reference, I want to tell all aspiring American Idols this: If you can’t sing, don’t come to the audition. No matter what you’re wearing, I’ll see through it. (Later that same week, we had a girl who plugged herself into a wall so she lit up like a Christmas tree when she sang. Or rather, tried to sing. On the whole, I was rather disappointed with the talent in Austin.)

The music business is like football. Everyone wants to be as good as the Super Bowl champs, whoever they are. (Not that I know much about American football, but there must be some team that’s better than all the others.) But there is a huge difference between playing for your high school team and playing for the Super Bowl champs. Likewise, there is a big difference between singing along with your guitar in your garage and selling five million albums a year. The problem is that too many people think that they’re capable of playing quarterback in the Super Bowl, and they’re dead wrong.

Let’s go back to the X Factor for a moment. Even if you have a voice like Barbra Streisand, you won’t get very far if you’re essentially unappealing. All the biggest pop stars, from Elvis and the Beatles to Elton John and Madonna, have possessed that elusive X Factor. Frank Sinatra wasn’t the best singer, technically — there were others with better pitch and range — but he had an aura. When he walked onstage and tilted his head up toward the microphone, you were transfixed. He had such stage presence. He was a born star. So what is it that made these artists so successful? What has helped them sustain their popularity? What set them apart from the wannabes of their time? And why am I the only man on earth who can explain it all to you?

Keep reading.

Excerpted from “I Don’t Mean to Be Rude, But…” by Simon Cowell. Excerpted by permission of Broadway, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.