Simon Cowell said he made a good faith effort to keep Cheryl Cole on either the U.S. or the U.K. version of "The X Factor" and regrets losing her and, possibly, her friendship.
Dismissing reports that Cole was dropped from the U.S. show because of a lack of chemistry with fellow judge Paula Abdul, Cowell said he "genuinely" felt Cole would be happier back home in England and on the original "X Factor."
"I hate seeing her hurt. She's one of -- I hope -- she's one of my closest friends, and this was a decision we made which we thought would be beneficial to her, funny enough," Cowell said in an interview Monday from London.
"Not many people will believe that, but that's the truth," said Cowell, the former "American Idol" judge who created "The X Factor." After the U.K. deal stalled, an effort to retain Cole on the upcoming Fox TV show also failed, he said.
Earlier Monday, Fox and producers announced that Cole was to be replaced on the network's version of the singing contest by another British pop star, Nicole Scherzinger, who will shift from co-host to judge on the show debuting this fall.
Cole's representatives did not respond to a request for comment.
Previously announced co-host Steve Jones, a popular British TV personality, will fly solo, Fox and "X Factor" producers FremantleMedia North America and Cowell's Syco Television said in a brief joint statement.
Cowell and Antonio "L.A." Reid join Scherzinger and Abdul as judges. Cole, who had already taped two audition shows, will be seen in some series footage, Cowell said.
Cowell called inaccurate the swirl of rumors about her, including the suggestion that she didn't mesh with the other U.S. judges or that her Newcastle, England, accent was difficult for American viewers to understand.
"She was good on the American show," Cowell said. "I personally thought she was missing her family and friends. She just looked a little bit, I wouldn't say uncomfortable, but just not as happy as I've seen her on previous shows."
Cole was offered a pay boost to leave the Fox's "X Factor" and return as a judge on the hit British show, Cowell said.
Cole's representatives quickly responded that she was interested and negotiations began, he said. She seemed excited, he said, adding, "It was even to the point she'd asked if she could have my dressing room" in London.
But talks were derailed when word leaked to the media and her side went silent, he said. With production nearing for the U.K. "X Factor" (its new season began last week), the panel had to be locked without Cole.
Cowell said he and the other producers of the Fox show determined it would be "fair" to offer Cole the chance to return. Despite reports, he said, she was could reject the offer without breaching her contract or losing any pay.
Cowell has been in touch with Cole, telling her in one text message that he takes "full responsibility" for what happened and doesn't lay blame on Fox or Fremantle. She's sent only one message back, he said.
"She told me she wasn't happy but that she also accepted it was a business decision and she wished the show well. Typically, in Cheryl form, she was disappointed but charming at the same time," said Cowell.
"I always, always would hold the door open to work with her again," he said.
However the "The X Factor" fares on Fox, it's already provided a bounty of gripping off-screen drama with Cole's exit and Abdul's announcement as judge last month following protracted will-she-or-won't-she speculation.
Is there a third act coming?
"I'm going to ax me," Cowell joked.
Fox is counting on the new series to extend to the fall the ratings domination provided by "American Idol," which airs from January to May. For Cowell, "The X Factor" is a chance to add to his U.S. portfolio that includes the summer series "America's Got Talent," airing on NBC and produced by Syco and FremantleMedia North America.