On the heels of a memorable promo during the most viewed TV program in history - Super Bowl XLV - Simon Cowell's "The X Factor" managed to make a little news of its own yesterday - the show, which launches this fall, will give a $5 million pot to the winner, far and away the biggest prize ever for a TV show, reality or game.

In its announcement yesterday, Fox and "X Factor" said the $5 million would actually be part of a record production deal with Sony. However, in a conference call later in the day, Cowell, the one known judge so far, said that the prize "is not dressed-up $5 million, but a guaranteed 5 million to the winner," who will be paid $1 million per year for five years.

Why the giant pot? Obvious reasons: To get attention and trump "American Idol," that other little talent contest ongoing at this very moment. Cowell - one of the partners on "Factor" - admitted there was risk; the show, for example, will be on the hook for $25 million after five seasons, whether the winners are successful or not in the marketplace. That's big money even by TV standards.

"Putting up that kind of prize money is a massive, massive risk, but also an incredible incentive," he said, "and I think that puts everyone rightly under an enormous amount of pressure. I'm nervous but also confident it was the right thing to do. It should be a life-changing prize."

Fox also said the series will begin auditions March 27 in Los Angeles; New York/New Jersey will also host auditions, along with Chicago, Dallas, Miami and Seattle; no specific dates yet.

Cowell declined to take the bait from one writer who wondered whether Paula Abdul was in the running to be a judge. "I'm a big fan of hers," he said carefully. "But I'm not going to say on this call who we are going to confirm or not because the truth is, we honestly haven't made our minds up yet."

Even with the world's best known music critic aboard, "The X Factor" remains very much an x factor in the fall. "Idol" has cooled off, other music series have come and gone, and the odds of an instant megahit are longer simply because potential viewers may think the show is just another "Idol," albeit for older contestants (anyone age 12 and up can compete; "Idol" contestants are capped at 28).

Cowell said "Factor" will diverge in a number of ways: The live portion will be "a very very different experience from anything you're used to seeing on TV; it's one of those things you've got to watch and then you'll see the difference."

"Factor's" studio audience, he said, is huge and encouraged to be almost a fourth judge (Susan Boyle probably wouldn't have moved forward on "Britain's Got Talent" without the audience input; each of the judges also mentors a finalist of their choosing).

"You do judge your own finalist, which makes you slightly more biased, but there are times when I've been critical . It's a very different principle because you've had to put the performance together yourself and your fellow judges are judging you. It's very intimidating."

Cowell intimidated? We'll see.

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