Love him or hate him (or really, really hate him), Simon Cowell will be missed when he leaves "American Idol" after the upcoming ninth season — even by some of the singers who've been on the receiving end of his blunt judgments.
"He was either nothing but love ... or, 'Kaboom!' " said Brooke White, who got a bit of both from Cowell during her run into the top five on season seven, the last go-round with the original judging triumvirate of Simon, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson. "I mean, he said I was like a hamburger with no meat one time!"
As much as she appreciates the opportunities "Idol" has given her, White wondered how the show would survive without Cowell's signature testy retorts. "I want to think the show is about so much more, that it's about the contestants and people achieving their dreams," she said. "But at the end of the day this guy seems to be the magic ingredient to the show."
In terms of potential replacements, White said she thinks an imitator wouldn't work, so producers have an opportunity to go in a totally different direction. "That dynamic [between Simon and Paula] was working for so long, so maybe they need to completely change the formula at this point," she said. "I don't know, Oscar the Grouch? Everyone loves Elmo. Gene Simmons [of Kiss]?"
Melinda Doolittle, who finished third in season six while enjoying plenty of kind comments from Cowell, was napping after returning from a performance in New York on Monday when a text from MTV News "Idol" expert Jim Cantiello woke her up with the news. "He was my hero!" she said. "He was the judge who had my back. I don't know why anyone would say this is good."
Doolittle said her first thought was, "Oh, crap. I hate it! I think it's awful! Simon, for me, was the person who really pushed for me and was really in my corner. But at the same time, he was the person I would listen to even when I didn't agree with the way he says things."
The singer said she's going to miss his voice on the judging panel and agreed with White that Cowell is a big reason fans tune in to the show. "I can't even think of anyone who could replace him," she said. "Someone without a filter who just thinks it and says it. Even [former 'Idol' producer] Nigel Lythgoe or ['America's Got Talent' judge] Piers Morgan. ... Nobody has what Simon has."
Cowell wasn't always kind to last season's fifth-place finisher, dueling-piano player Matt Giraud. In fact, the judge assured him that he couldn't win the competition — just before employing the first-ever judges' save in "Idol" history.
Even so, Giraud said he was also glad to be on the final season with the original three (plus Kara). "Some people say his word is the final word," Giraud said. "I guess I was glad to be part of the last season with the original judges. Believe it or not, people are really entertained by that crew up there. Whether he bashes or destroys a singer, a lot of people enjoy that."
Because the formula has worked for so long, Giraud also said it will be hard, if not impossible, to capture that magic again. He jokingly suggested that metal icon Ozzy Osbourne could step in and offer some mumbled comments that would just confuse the audience. Or maybe the show could use a British-sounding robot that could spit out scripted quips like, "That's rubbish!"
"The show can survive," he predicted. "The producers are smart, and they will come up with something, but you can't replace that original chemistry. It has to be something different."
Get your "Idol" fix on MTV News' "American Idol" page, where you'll find all the latest news, interviews and opinions.