Mr Nasty shows a softer side
No-nonsense destroyer of dreams Simon Cowell stunned into silence and has to choke back tears thanks to stunning X-Factor audition
There's a reason why he's infamously (and unanimously) known as TV's Mr Nasty – and that's being exceedingly kind.
British judge and TV producer of reality singing contests Simon Cowell is not one to mince his words. Nor does he hold back on the scathing insults, as seen on his long-running stints on shows such as American Idol and The X Factor UK.
This is why the Mean Machine showing a sliver of humanity becomes a big deal.
In a surprising and rare display of emotion, the 55-year-old was seen wiping away tears in a recent episode of The X Factor UK on Aug 30.
During the first audition week of the reality TV show, which began in 2004 and is into its 12th season, judges Cheryl Fernandez-Versini, Nick Grimshaw and Cowell were moved by contestant Josh Daniels' performance of Jealous by singer-producer Labrinth.
The 21-year-old car mechanic sang Jealous in memory of his best friend who died two years ago.
As Daniels finished, Cowell gave a look to Fernandez-Versini who took the cue to lead the critique instead of Cowell. Flustered, she praised Daniels.
Visibly choked up and with his eyes looking watery, Cowell could barely utter a word except for a third "yes" which allowed Daniels to move on to the next stage of the competition.
Just days before Daniels' audition in July, Cowell's 89-year-old mother Julie had died after a stroke.
He told The Sun on Saturday about rewatching the episode and giving the producers a choice to include it in: "Of course, it brought it all back. It is a very difficult thing to know what to do. The contestant didn’t know the situation. He wasn’t doing it to make me upset. He sang the song for his own reasons. It was more important that he did a good audition.
"But it was very raw and it did take me back to the moment, but I think in quite a healthy way. Being upset is a human thing."
In an appearance on British panel show Loose Women, he addressed the issue and admitted it brought back memories of his beloved mother.
“I mean, it was quite near when it all happened and I think it was the last audition and I wasn't really expecting what happened. And of course the lyric of the song... and it was quite difficult because I thought, 'God, this is going to be really hard to sit through.' But then you’ve got to think of (the contestant). It’s his moment but yes it was very emotional," he explained.
For most people, a crying Cowell is a welcomed change from the blunt, no-nonsense destroyer of dreams the audience is used to.
But tears and emotions? And all at the start of a new season of The X Factor?
While it can be cynical to mention the fact, the decision to air the moment in full — including Cowell's walk off set set to lilting piano music and his co-judges voicing concern — has brought some much needed attention to the show.
Launched in 2004, when reality singing competitions were at their height, it has been a staple of the UK's Saturday night TV diet for the best part of a decade.
The show's highest-rated series debut was in 2011 with 11.3 million viewers but now fortunes are flagging.
Last year, Cowell's return for the 11th season's debut boosted ratings to 9.5 million viewers.
The current season's debut had the lowest ratings since 2006, drawing an average of 7.7 million viewers on Saturday.
Only 5.94 million viewers watched the second episode.
The show has also failed to produce many notable successes, though the acts that have broken through have gone international.
Winners Leona Lewis and Little Mix who went on to enjoy huge success, though the others seem to have fallen into a black hole.
Possibly its most successful product comes in the form of One Direction who were not even winners of the competition.
If things continue to spiral downhill, perhaps Cowell might have others things to cry about in the future.
Other TV judges that let the emotions take over
1. Nicole Scherzinger
In the first season of The X Factor US in 2011, the Pussycat Dolls frontwoman was given the tough decision to choose between contestants Rachel Crow and Marcus Canty.
She then voted off 13-year-old Crow, resulting in a deadlock which left the elimination in the hands of public vote.
Crow was left sobbing uncontrollably on stage in the emotional episode, causing Scherzinger, 37 , to burst into tears as well.
On top of the general flak from the public, Scherzinger also received death threats. Which shows how seriously some deluded people take these contests.
2. Natalia Kills and Willy Moon
If you thought Simon Cowell's comments were acid-laced, he is positively restrained compared to Ms Kills.
The husband-and-wife pair became possibly the most hated duo on the judging panel after bullying The X Factor New Zealand contestant Joe Irvine in March.
Kills, 29, slammed the 25-year-old for being a "doppelganger" and copying her husband.
In the humiliating outburst, she added it was "cheesy, disgusting (and she) personally found it artistically atrocious".
Moon, 25, compared him to Psycho character Norman Bates and said that "it feels a little creepy and I feel like you are going to stitch someone's skin to your face and then kill everybody in the audience... but you do you."
Following the public uproar – the footage went viral taking the story far beyond New Zealand – the pair were sacked and subsequently apologised for their actions.
Irvine however drew the support of Lorde, Ellie Goulding, Ed Sheeran and more.
Of course, conspiracists suggest that it was all a ploy to get some ratings.
3. Harry Connick, Jr
In April this year, the American Idol judge lost his cool at contestant Quentin Alexander, 21.
After Connick Jr had told Alexander that the backing band overshadowed his performance of Lenny Kravitz's Are You Gonna Go My Way, a sore Alexander responded with "This sucks. We've got two of the best vocalists, my best friend, sitting over there, this whole thing is wack, but I'm going to shut up right now."
Connick, Jr, 47, then hit back, saying: "Quentin, if it's that wack, then you can always go home, because Idol is paying a lot of money to give you this experience and for you to say that to this hand that is feeding you right now, I think is highly disrespectful."
Alexander then stomped down to the judges panel to talk about his feelings and explain that he did not mean the show as a whole, but rather the fact that people have to be voted off.
You'd think he would be used to the format since the show has been running for more than half the hopeful's life.