Simon Cowell says it was all a big misunderstanding.

The snarky American Idol judge's absence from Wednesday night's live show had nothing to do with him allegedly flipping the bird at show co-host Ryan Seacrest, he says. 

Nor was he forced to miss the show because of "emergency business" — but rather to keep a promise to a friend. 

"It was partly on business," Cowell told The Post yesterday, saying he didn't show up for American Idol's first live elimination round because he had promised to return to England for a friend's 40th birthday. 

Cowell, nicknamed "Mr. Nasty" for his blunt and often hurtful commentary directed at the show's contestants, denies flipping the bird at Seacrest. 

On last Wednesday's episode, Cowell grinned sarcastically, raised his middle finger and rubbed his eye with it after Seacrest got in a quick dig at him. 

"Simon and I go after each other every once in a while on the show," Seacrest said. "We're encouraged to say what we're thinking but I don't think he was intentionally trying to give me the finger on the show." 

On this Wednesday's live American Idol, Cowell was represented by a cardboard cut-out with a moving mouth similar to a ventriloquist doll. 

"There's a little less ego on the sofa tonight," said judge Randy Jackson, who's almost come to blows with Cowell in past episodes. 

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