Simon Cowell finally said it: He's going.
As "American Idol" starts its ninth season Tuesday night, the tart-tongued judge said Monday he'll leave the megahit after the season ends. His next move: launching an American version of his British hit "The X Factor" on Fox next year.
Ever the showman, Cowell got on a stage before TV writers and critics in Pasadena, Calif., and - after being handed a pen - proceeded to sign his new and outrageously lucrative contract with Fox.
Cowell revealed no financial details. But the one that currently pays the rent grosses him $50 million per year, according to at least one estimate.
"I was offered a lot of money to stay on," he said, "but I felt like doing something different." In this case, that involves a show that he owns outright along with FremantleMedia and that is an enormous hit in the U.K.
Cowell will be one of the judges on "X Factor," a talent contest that finds new stars in entertainment areas, not just music. TV critics instantly hit him Monday with questions about Paula Abdul's availability as a judge. (TMZ.com reported Monday that both have held discussions.) "I adore Paula," Cowell said. "Whatever happens, I will be working with her in some capacity because I miss her."
Announcement of the departure had been expected for weeks. Fox cleverly set up the timing for the press tour to maximize publicity for "X Factor," which - even with Simon aboard - isn't totally a lock for "Idol"-sized success.
Fox offered no specifics on timing, but a September 2011 launch is likely, which means the first edition will wrap before the 11th season of "Idol" begins.
And what of the future of "Idol" itself? Fox chief Peter Rice told writers "We're not going to find a clone" of Cowell, but that "Idol" will be on the air for at least three more seasons.
'AI "just will not be the ratings juggernaut it has been," said Brad Adgate, senior vice president for Manhattan advertising media firm Horizon. "Cowell's departure will hasten the decline in viewing that has been happening since Season 5, [and] while 'X Factor' should do well, I don't know how you can expect a new show in this competitive TV environment to attract [AI's] 25 million viewers."