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Simon Cowell Says Niall Horan Becoming a Coach on The Voice Is a "Weird, Full Circle-y Thing"

Irish singer Niall Horan was just 16 years old and hoping to be the next Justin Bieber when auditioning on The X Factor UK.

By Jax Miller

It’s hard to believe there was ever a time when Niall Horan wasn't famous, but according to America’s Got Talent Judge Simon Cowell, the Irish singer has Cowell to thank for his stardom.

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Before Horan became part of the world-famous boy band One Direction, he was a 16-old-boy from County Westmeath, Ireland, auditioning in Dublin for a chance to get on the The X Factor UK, with Cowell on the panel.

Speaking to NBC Insider’s Tara Bennett at a recent red carpet event, Cowell recalled Horan’s ever-so successful musical journey starting with his fearless 2010 Audition — when he sang his rendition of Ne-Yo’s “So Sick” — to now being the newest Coach on NBC’s The Voice.

Cowell noted Horan's X Factor UK experience almost didn't happen, admitting Horan “nearly didn’t get through” his audition.

“I had to persuade that person to put Niall through,” said Cowell. “Talk about how your life can change.”

Cowell refused to say in the recent interview which of his fellow Judges didn’t want Horan to pass his audition but said, “They weren’t having it.”

Simon Cowell Niall Horan Split Image

Cowell added he remembered the audition “very well.”

Horan came onstage, hoping to “fill arenas around the world” by performing an a cappella version of Usher’s “U Got It Bad.” But the Judges agreed they preferred he sang a less challenging song with a track, all settling on the Ne-Yo song.

The X Factor UK guest judge and superstar Katy Perry called Horan “adorable,” but thought Horan needed some work.

“Sometimes, you just have to learn more,” she told the charismatic teen. “And you’re almost there.”

“Niall, I think you have something,” said Irish music manager and The X Factor UK judge Louis Walsh. “I think people would absolutely like you because you’re likable.”

British singer Cheryl Cole agreed with Perry that Horan was “adorable” and “charming,” but she said he shouldn’t move on to the next round. Walsh and Cowell argued he should, leaving the final choice to the “Roar” singer.

“Can I just say that I agree with Cheryl — you do need more experience, and by the way, likable-ness is not gonna sell records,” said Perry. “It’s talent, and you have a seed of it.”

Under the pressure of a live audience on Horan’s side, Perry let Horan into the next round, unknowingly sending him on a trajectory that would forever change the Mullingar boy’s life.

RELATED: Niall Horan's 2023 Tour: Get the Details

Through The X Factor UK, Horan teamed up with fellow teens Harry Styles, Louis Tomlinson, Zayn Malik, and Liam Payne to form One Direction, later performing pop hits including “What Makes You Beautiful” and “Story of My Life.” Though they only placed third on the British series, the boy band sold over 80 million records and won multiple awards with Billboard, MTV, and the AMAs.

The One Direction members, of course, went on to have successful and high-profile careers on their own. Horan was no exception when releasing his 2017 debut solo album Flicker, featuring his triple-platinum song “Slow Hands.”

Horan has now been a Coach on Seasons 23 and 24 of The Voice. There, Horan continued to take what he’s learned from his successful career and pass his wisdom onto hopeful singers competing for a chance at musical success. 

“It’s good,” Cowell told NBC Insider of Horan joining The Voice. “it’s just kind of a weird, full-circle-y, kind of amazing thing.”


Want more Simon Cowell? Watch him as a Judge on America's Got Talent: Fantasy League, which airs Mondays at 8/7c on NBC and next day on Peacock! 

—Reporting by Tara Bennett 

Originally published Apr 27, 2023.