Keep Cowell Out! What the theatre industry should learn from TV about Simon Cowell…

Photo: ITV
Matthew Hemley
Matt is news editor for The Stage, having started as the newspaper’s broadcast reporter. He covers all areas of the industry in his role, but has a particular interest in musical theatre. Matt studied acting at Bretton Hall and presents a monthly theatre news round up on BBC London Radio.
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Theatre producers beware! If you're approached by a man who looks suspiciously like Simon Cowell, who goes by the name of Simon Cowell and who has more than a whiff of arrogance about him and unnaturally white teeth, run! Hide! And then run some more.

I say this because Cowell's latest venture is a musical version of The X Factor, being penned by Harry Hill, and I don't believe any producer in their right mind should entertain the idea of getting involved – no matter how financially rewarding it might appear.

You only have to look at the television and music industries to see why it’s best for everyone in the world of theatre that Cowell is kept at bay.

Cowell has dominated Saturday night television for some years now, particularly on ITV, with Britain’s Got Talent and The X Factor, both co-produced with his own company, Syco.

My heart sinks a little when I hear friends/colleagues/relatives - intelligent people – discussing these programmes seriously, at length. About how Louis Walsh and Gary Barlow had a feud one week or how a sing-off went to deadlock because one of the judges couldn’t decide who to send home. Do we really care about this faux drama? And more importantly, can’t people see that what Simon Cowell is really concerned with is his profit margins?

[pullquote]When Simon Cowell says that he’s approaching The X Factor musical like one of his television shows, the alarm bells should be ringing in the heads of anyone who cares about theatre.[/pullquote]

People can’t seriously believe he is genuinely concerned about the talent he “discovers” on these shows. He isn’t. I'd say he's more concerned with how successful they can make his business, before they become unpopular and he ditches them in favour of someone else.

And look what happens to the music industry when he launches yet another new act off the back of The X Factor. It gets swamped with cheap, manufactured music - music that, thanks to its brainwashing effect and the clout of Cowell’s marketing machine, pushes genuine talent to one side.

This isn’t just happening in the world of popular music, I might add. It appears that Cowell’s antics have even affected classical musicians trying to go about their work. I was told this week that a group of  musicians rehearsing at the Millennium Centre in Cardiff were, having stepped out to get some lunch, informed they could not re-enter part of the building. This was because, as a burly bouncer informed them, Cowell was due to arrive any minute for Britain’s Got Talent auditions. And? Why should proper, talented musicians be prevented from doing their job in the name of cheap Saturday night television? They shouldn’t - and thankfully a brave member of the group ignored the bouncer’s demands and led the musicians through the building so they could get on with what they were being paid to do - make music. And good music, at that.

So when Simon Cowell says, as he did in one interview I saw, that he’s approaching The X Factor musical like one of his television shows, the alarm bells should be ringing in the heads of anyone who cares about theatre.

In short, theatreland would do well to look at how Cowell has dominated television and the music industry in recent years with his cynical products and take heed. Once he’s in, you won’t get him out again. You have been warned.