Time Entertainment talk exclusively to Simon Cowell
He’s been judging televised talent competitions for more than a decade, but Cowell, who turns 54 on Oct. 7, is still coming up with ways to tell people they can’t sing. Even with the third season of the U.S. version of The X Factor under way and a much-buzzed-about baby due soon, he found a moment to talk with TIME.
TIME: I saw on Twitter that you were recently on a plane deciding between watching a Batman movie and Seabiscuit. Which did you pick?
Cowell: Seabiscuit. I’ve probably seen the movie about three times so I didn’t get all the way through it, but I love that movie.
You must spend a lot of time on airplanes.
And I actually hate traveling. I get bored the second I walk on. I’m slightly claustrophobic and I hate the air, so I’m just willing it to end the second I get on.
Does watching a movie help?
Yeah, and because I charter planes I can smoke and I can have a few drinks. So…
That makes it a little bit easier!
A little bit easier.
Do you pay attention at all to what people say to you on Twitter? I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people just asking for a follow…
I do get a lot of that. I’m always curious to see what they say, particularly when the show’s running. I kind of watch Twitter at the same time. It tells me who they like, who they don’t like, and it’s a really good barometer for what’s happening. It might make me look at a contestant in a different way, whether [my followers] hate them or love them.
You actually did a little singing yourself on The X Factor already this season…
If someone saw the clip without the part that came before it and they thought I really sang like that, that wouldn’t be great.
So is your actual voice pretty decent?
It’s okay. I have done back-up vocals on tracks before but it’s not something I feel that confident about.
Did you ever have any desire to be the one singing rather than judging?
When I had my first electric guitar when I was 12 years old, maybe for five minutes. Then I realized I couldn’t play it and that was the end of that. But a lot of my family friends were TV producers, film producers, and I kind of wanted to be a film producer more than anything else. Then I found myself in television and music—and now I did actually get to make my first movie this year, and that was always a lifelong ambition, which was the One Direction movie. I think the night I turned up at the premiere in London, it really was one of my favorite nights I’ve ever had.
What would you say to yourself if you came to audition on X Factor?
I would say ‘stick to your day job, you’re doing fine.’
Do you think of one-liners in advance ever?
No, but I’ve worked with people who’ve done that before. There was one guy who wrote a whole book of one-liners and I always remember this ghastly audition where he was so desperate to say something funny that he was flipping through all these pages trying to find a funny thing that actually wasn’t funny. It was excruciating. You have to go into an audition with a very, very open mind. Then whatever pops into your mind, I think it’s best to refer to it that way. That way you really can relate, I hope, to what people are thinking at home.
The X Factor is one of three major singing-competition shows that are airing this season. Are there too many?
There are too many. If you count the cable shows and the network shows at the moment — I mean, we knew this was going to happen. They were never going to allow us to be the only show in town. The problem is, a lot of producers work on one show then they get poached and they go on another show, so elements of what they did before you suddenly see appearing on another show and then everything looks the same. I’ve run a record label now for, I think, 30 years and the one thing I’ve understood is cycles. Everything goes round in a cycle. If it gets way, way too crowded, we have to give it a rest and come back with something different.