NBC Insider Exclusive

Create a free profile to get unlimited access to exclusive show news, updates, and more!

Sign Up For Free to View
NBC Insider America's Got Talent

Everything to Know About AGT Judge Simon Cowell

The music and television producer has spent decades creating pop idols and great television.

By Megan Lasher
Simon Cowell Reveals The Worst 'AGT' Acts

America's Got Talent judge Simon Cowell has been scouting talent in the music industry for decades now — both on-screen and off.

How to Watch

Watch America’s Got Talent Tuesdays at 8/7c on NBC and next day on Peacock

Americans first met him as the harsh judge on American Idol, which premiered in 2002 and crowned Kelly Clarkson as its first-ever winner. However, what many people don't know is that Cowell's televised judging skills aren't the only reason he's become a household name. 

Cowell has created and produced some of the biggest competition shows — and he notably is the reason that the megastar boy band One Direction ever became a group. Revisit Cowell's impressive career trajectory, and the massive mark it has left on the entertainment industry. 

Cowell's early career in the music industry

Originally from London, Cowell began his career in music at EMI Music Publishing, a U.K.-based company that has signed artists like Elton John and Paul McCartney. According to biography.com, Cowell's father was working as an executive at EMI and helped his then-teenage son land a job in the mailroom; it marked the beginning of his time in the industry. 

Cowell left EMI to form his own production companies — first E&S Music and then Fanfare Music — where he spent much of the 1980s producing hits and scouting talent before he went bankrupt and was forced to move back home with his parents.

Shortly after, however, Cowell joined the team at BMG Records (whose impressive artist list includes Mick Jagger and David Bowie), and was incredibly successful at signing acts. 

Cowell joined Pop Idol, then American Idol

American Idol judge Simon Cowell at the FOX 2002 SummerTCA Tour

Cowell was cast as a judge for the UK's Pop Idol, which Spice Girls creator Simon Fuller pitched to British channel ITV. It aired from 2001 to 2003, and was the start to an international Idol franchise, including American Idol. Pop Idol's first winner, Will Young, went on to produce chart-topping hits after claiming the crown. 

In 2002, Cowell worked with Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson as a judge the inaugural season of American Idol, which became a huge hit. Over 22 million people tuned in to watch the season finale in which Kelly Clarkson beat out Justin Guarini for the title. (Of course, Clarkson went on to great success after the show, releasing myriad hit songs and ultimately becoming a Coach on The Voice.)

He remained on American Idol until 2011, when he was replaced as a judge by Steven Tyler.

Simon Cowell and The X Factor 

In 2004, Cowell created, produced, and became a judge (alongside Sharon Osbourne and Irish music producer Louis Walsh) on The X Factor in the U.K. The show quickly became a massive success; its winners include soloist Leona Lewis and girl groupd Little Mix, who went on to create popular hits like "Bleeding Love" and "Shout Out to My Ex," respectively.

In 2010, during The X Factor's seventh season, Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles, and Louis Tomlinson auditioned for the show, and Cowell quickly took them under his wing. As the competition went on, Cowell decided that the five boys would be better as a band, and matched them together to form the group One Direction. Cowell signed them onto his record label, Syco Music, and they rose to international fame upon the release of their hit single "What Makes You Beautiful." 

L-R: L.A. Reid, Demi Lovato, Britney Spears and Simon Cowell on the set of THE X FACTOR

In 2011, Cowell left the U.K. version of The X Factor to launch the American version, which aired for three seasons. Cowell served as a judge alongside Paula Abdul, Cheryl Cole, and L.A. Reid in Season 1; with Britney Spears and Demi Lovato in Season 2; and with Kelly Rowland and Paulina Rubio in Season 3.

(The show, like the Idol franchise, spawned numerous licensed versions in other countries as well.)

Cowell then returned to the U.K. version to judge for five more seasons, until the show stopped airing in 2018.

Simon Cowell's Got Talent franchise

Simon Cowell attends an America's Got Talent red carpet.

Idol and The X-Factor aren't the only international franchise on Cowell's resume. In 2006, Syco TV and its business partners launched America's Got Talent, a television competition show that features musicians alongside comedians, magicians, dancers and more. A year later, Britain's Got Talent premiered and rose to success alongside its U.S. counterpart, with dozens of international franchises to follow. It was named by Guinness World Records as the Most Successful Reality TV Format.

Cowell has served as a judge on Britain's Got Talent since the outset, and joined America's Got Talent as a judge in 2016 for Season 11. He's served in that role ever since though, during Season 15 of the show, Cowell was injured in a bike accident and had to miss the final live performances.

Americas Got Talent 1801 2

Cowell currently hosts America's Got Talent alongside Howie Mandel, Heidi Klum, and Sofia Vergara, and Season 18 is set to premiere on May 30, 2023.