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Simon Not Leaving American Idol: Stakes Too High

Simon CowellMichael Jackson

Simon Not Leaving American Idol: Stake Too High

Simon Cowell is not leaving American Idol.

I'm sorry I'm so late to the AI craze, but I did catch Cowell giving interviews last week to the effect that he "didn't know what he'd be doing" about a third season of this freeze dried, shrink wrapped phenomenon.

Let me tell you right now, lest anyone worry: Simon will be back. How do I know this? He's a part owner of the show!

Just three weeks ago a little-seen press release was issued by the very tony, white-shoe Boston law firm of Hale and Dorr. To whit: they advised Bertelsmann Music Group UK on its "acquisition of Simon Cowell's 50 percent stake in Ronagold Limited, their joint venture record company." Ronagold had been set up in 2000 so Cowell and BMG could put out records by their original UK Pop Idol stars Will Young and Gareth Gates.

Cowell, thanks to the firm, also set up a new company through BMG called SimCow, for new music, TV and film ventures. Of course, Cowell is still partnered in Simon Fuller's firm, 19 Entertainment and 19 Management, which controls all things American Idol. And I mean, all things.

All this stuff about people winning million-dollar recording contracts, competing for record contracts, etc? It's utter nonsense. All the contestants on American Idol are contracted to BMG Music Worldwide and 19 Entertainment when they sign on to the show. BMG has the right to exercise that option whenever they want.

Indeed, American Idol contestants sign an agreement with 19 Entertainment at the outset that limits them from taking outside offers. To date, Cowell has Kelly Clarkson, Justin Guarini, Tamyra Gray, Ruben Studdard, Clay Aiken, and even bounced participant Frenchie Davis all signed up for management and recording deals.

Simon himself conceded as much in one interview earlier this year. "I own the recording rights -- the winners and other contestants sign with my label," he told the Copley News Service back in February.

It was only last January when I reported in this space that Cowell was dining with BMG's Clive Davis and songwriter Diane Warren at Spago in Beverly Hills to discuss songs for American Idol season one singer Tamyra Gray's album. Warren has a song on Clarkson's album and will more than likely be included on the others'.

Cowell has been a longtime executive at BMG in England, in charge of finding teen pop stuff and merchandising it. He is personally responsible for an artificially mandated teen group and TV show called S Club 7. (The S stands for Simon.) His partner outside of BMG, Simon Fuller, signs the American Idol stars to management contracts at the same time that Cowell is signing them to his own boutique label at BMG in the United Kingdom or, now, to BMG's American labels RCA and J in the United States.

Cowell and Fuller produce the American Idol TV show, manage the singers they like from the crop that makes it to the winner's circle, and sign them to label deals at Cowell's company. It's unlikely with all that convergence that Cowell would miss being on the air during a season of AI.

Cowell and Fuller, meantime, make sure that the songs recorded by their American Idol stars are foolproof fluff.

Take the writers of Kelly's album tracks. They are all from the factory school of junk pop -- sort of the Hallmark card version of songwriting: Diane Warren, Desmond Child, etc. The idea is to be bland, bland, bland. Since there is no jingle writing anymore for commercials, this is what's replaced it.

The authors of two Kelly songs, Evan Rogers and Carl Sturken, according to one database, have authored an astounding 388 titles. Only three of those, however, are partially known as hits -- two for Donny Osmond and one for 'N Sync. Not exactly cutting edge, but that's not what's needed for the likes of the American Idol singers.

They need wholesome hits that can win them teen fans and the approval of parents who control their disposable income. Think The Archies ("Sugar Sugar"), The Partridge Family. Debbie Gibson. Tiffany.

Guarini, on the other hand, will lean more toward cover versions of old hits on his album. One of them will be the Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody," written by Hy Zaret and Alex North in 1955. (And not by Guarini, as some fan Web sites claim.) In England, Cowell and Fuller had a hit on that song with their British Pop Idol star Gareth Gates.

Justin Guarini's mom, Cathy, a former TV news anchor, told me yesterday: "Justin just got home on Friday night. And on Saturday morning Federal Express delivered his album. It's got a little of everything on it, even some Latin type songs."

As for the movie, From Justin to Kelly, which 20th Century Fox will release three days after Justin's album hits stores: "It's a summer movie for the kids, that's all it is. It's a lot of fun."

The movie is executive produced by Simon Fuller and written (such as it is) by his brother, Kim Fuller. Kim, who also wrote the script for the Spice Girls' movie Spice World, is listed as the co-author of the movie's title track, a song called "From Me to You," which has no relation whatsoever to the famous Beatles song.

Jacko Story Backo

From the "really weird" category: the story of Michael Jackson being in financial peril re-surfaced over the weekend as a whole new story! In fact, it was the exact same story that this column reported last July 26! What happened? Evidently, attorney Pierce O'Donnell, who represents Jackson's former business manager, decided to issue a press release announcing Jackson's near bankruptcy. The reason is that the long-aborning court case between O'Donnell's client, Myung Ho Lee, and Jackson, is finally coming to trial next month. But there was nothing new in O'Donnell's pronouncement. It's the same material from a year ago, which was widely transmitted at the time. Lucky for O'Donnell, the press has a short memory.

You can read all the original Jacko stories regarding his financial situation in the Fox411 Archives. Just pull down July 2002 and select from several offerings.