Simon Phillip Cowell is an English television personality, entrepreneur, and record executive. He has judged on the British television talent competition series Pop Idol (2001–2003), The X Factor UK (2004–2010, 2014–2018) and Britain's Got Talent (2007–present), and the American television talent competition series American Idol (2002–2010), The X Factor US (2011–2013), and America's Got Talent (2016–present). Cowell is the founder and sole owner of the British entertainment company Syco.
After some success in the 1980s and 1990s as a record producer, talent scout and consultant in the UK music industry, Cowell came to public prominence in 2001 as a judge on Pop Idol, a show which he and its creator Simon Fuller successfully pitched to ITV Controller of Entertainment Claudia Rosencrantz. He subsequently created The X Factor and Got Talent franchises which have been sold around the world. In 2004 and 2010, Time named Cowell one of the 100 most influential people in the world. In 2008, The Daily Telegraph ranked him sixth in their list of the "100 most powerful people in British culture". The same year, he received the Special Recognition Award at the National Television Awards. At the 2010 British Academy Television Awards, Cowell received the BAFTA Special Award for his "outstanding contribution to the entertainment industry and for his development of new talent". In 2018, he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the television category.
Cowell often makes blunt and controversial comments as a television music and talent show judge, including insults and wisecracks about contestants and their singing abilities. He combines activities in both the television and music industries. Cowell has produced and promoted successful singles and albums for various recording acts whom he has signed and taken under his wing, including Little Mix, James Arthur, Labrinth, Leona Lewis, Fifth Harmony, Il Divo, Olly Murs, Noah Cyrus, Cher Lloyd, Fleur East, and Susan Boyle. He has also signed successful boybands such as Westlife, One Direction, PrettyMuch, CNCO.
Simon Phillip Cowell was born on 7 October 1959 in Lambeth, London, and raised in Elstree, Hertfordshire. His mother, Julie Brett (née Josie Dalglish, 1925–2015), was a ballet dancer and socialite, and his father, Eric Selig Phillip Cowell (1918–1999), was an estate agent, property developer, and music industry executive. Cowell's father was from a mostly Jewish family (his own mother was born in Poland), though he did not discuss his ancestry with his children. Cowell's mother was from a Christian background. He has a younger brother, Nicholas Cowell; three half brothers, John, Tony, and Michael Cowell; and a half sister, June Cowell.
Cowell attended Radlett Preparatory School and the independent Dover College, as did his brother, but left after taking GCE O levels. He passed English Language and Literature and then attended Windsor Technical College, where he gained another GCE in Sociology. Cowell took a few menial jobs—including, according to his brother Tony, working as a runner on Stanley Kubrick's 1980 horror film The Shining—but did not get along well with colleagues and bosses, until his father, who was an executive at EMI Music Publishing, managed to get him a job in the mail room. However, after failing to get a promotion, he left to try out other jobs before returning to EMI.
In the early 1980s, Cowell left EMI to form E&S Music with his former boss at EMI but quit in 1983. He then formed Fanfare Records with Iain Burton, initially selling exercise videos, and music from acts such as the Italian orchestra Rondò Veneziano. He had his first hit song in 1986 with "So Macho" by Sinitta. Some of Cowell's early success came through Stock Aitken Waterman, who produced a number of hits in the 1980s. However, in 1989 the company went under and he nearly became bankrupt.
He then found a job with BMG as an A&R consultant and set up S Records under BMG. He restarted his career in the music business by creating novelty records with acts such as the puppets Zig and Zag, Power Rangers and World Wrestling Federation. In 1995, through his persistence, he persuaded two actors, Robson Green and Jerome Flynn from the UK television drama series Soldier Soldier, to sign with him and record the song "Unchained Melody", which they had performed on the show. The recording by the duo, now named Robson & Jerome, quickly reached number 1 in the UK, staying at the top of the chart for seven weeks. It became the best-selling single of 1995, and their self-titled album released later in the year also became the best-selling album of 1995. They released another album and two more singles before disbanding, and sold 7 million albums and 5 million singles in total. According to Cowell, they made him his first million. Later acts he signed included Five, Westlife and Teletubbies.