The hype machine for Simon Cowell's upcoming U.S. edition of "The X Factor" has really begun to crank up. But with the exception of announcing that former Island Def Jam chairman L.A. Reid had quit his label gig to join the judging panel of the fall reality singing show, we've heard nothing but rumors about who will fill in the other two chairs next to Cowell and Reid.
But in an exclusive interview with Deadline Hollywood, Cowell finally tipped his hand about the laborious process of finding the perfect panel. And wouldn't you know it, he's bringing Paula back: After both took leave of "American Idol," Cowell and good pal Paula Abdul could be reunited on "X Factor." (More on that later.)
But it's the fourth choice that may elicit some head-scratching from American fans: Cheryl Cole. Though a major star in England, singer Cole is a virtual unknown in the U.S. (Cowell said negotiations for Abdul's deal haven't started yet and Cole's contract hasn't been completed.) An insider told the site that Cole is "pretty much a shoo-in" for the show and that a formal announcement should come within a week.
Fashionista Cole, a former member of the female pop group Girls Aloud, has been a popular judge on the British version of "X Factor" for three seasons, during which she's been a staple of British tabloids thanks to her messy marriage and divorce from former soccer player Ashley Cole.
"I never think about it as an American or British audience," Cowell said in support of Cole. "I genuinely don't. I think that's what's happened on a lot of these shows now is it's almost like you've got to hire well-known celebrities to be a judge. And with Cheryl, when I hired her initially, I'd only met her literally once when I offered her the job on [British] 'X Factor.' I thought she was bright, cute, knew what she was talking about, ambitious. And you meet someone special a few times in your life. And this girl is special. She's just got a great ability to communicate. She's a great judge. She's smart. It's just a hunch. If people take to her like the British public did, I think she's going to do really well in America. And Fox was desperate to hire her."
He also said that he was very interested in reuniting with Abdul, with whom he had legendary on-screen chemistry on "Idol."
"I've always wanted Paula. Always been very vocal about that," he said. "I missed her the second she left the show. Always loved working with her even though she can be a pain. And I've been consistent about this. I don't know what it is about her, but I've always clicked with her. You just have to get that chemistry, and she's right. I've never found anyone better than her."
Cowell blanched at the rumors of the celebrities who have reportedly turned him down for the show. "I keep reading about all these people we've approached and have turned us down for the show," he said. He shot down a number of rumors about stars who were reportedly in consideration: Snoop Dogg (Cowell says he never spoke to him about the show), Cee Lo Green (met with him, but talks cooled when he accepted spot on "The Voice"), Jennifer Lopez (talks broke off after she took the "Idol" job), Diddy (never approached because of his reported insistence on owning a part of the show), Gloria Estefan (showed up at Miami "X Factor" auditions, but never in discussions), Mariah Carey (unavailable because of pending birth of her twins).
In a strange turn of events, Cowell's own rep denied the very things the "X Factor" boss said in the Deadline interview in a subsequent talk with The Hollywood Reporter. "It's still playing out," the unnamed rep told the entertainment business magazine. "Nothing is set, and Paula is one of many people Simon is talking to. He's said the same thing many times, including on the radio last week. There's nothing new."