Are Simon Cowell and "American Idol" kaput after next season? Which may be another way of asking: Is "American Idol" over?
An intriguing story in the News Corp.-owned Times of London Wednesday reported that Cowell is poised to sign a deal early next year that could mean the end of his long "Idol" run after next season and the beginning of a run as host of the U.S. version of "The X Factor," expected to bow next fall.
There have been many media reports in recent months that Cowell was considering his endgame at "Idol" and ready to walk after his contract ends in 2011 - prompting breathless and almost certainly ludicrous press speculation that Fox was ready to throw more than $100 million at him to keep him on the program another season.
In addition, Cowell has been curiously and uncharacteristically reticent on the hiring of Ellen DeGeneres as Paula Abdul's replacement, leading to further speculation that he may be displeased with the hire - and hence the show. That may be true or may not be, although Abdul has long been considered a leading candidate to host "The X Factor," Cowell's British hit, when it comes to these shores in 2011.
In addition, the Times story said Cowell told Fox Broadcasting boss Peter Rice six weeks ago that he was considering stepping down as "Idol" judge after this season. That's not exactly news to the U.S. entertainment press, which widely reported in September that Cowell was waffling and that Fox was pressing to get two more "Idol" seasons out of him through 2012, with big money forthcoming. Of course much can happen over six weeks, and doubtless has.
Could Cowell judge both "Idol" and an American "X Factor?" Theoretically, yes, but judging two similar talent shows on the same network - as well as "X Factor" for ITV in the U.K. - wouldn't be just unprecedented but probably overkill as well. Plus, it could diminish two important franchises, and make the judge (as they say across the pond) barmy, too.
Reps for "American Idol" declined to comment.