In its seventh season, American Idol is still an unstoppable phenomenon with 27 million viewers each week. Judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson say this year's contestants are the most talented yet.
Simon—who also produces America's Got Talent and hosts The X Factor, a British talent competition—says he never thought American Idol would last seven days, let alone seven seasons. "I think we get lucky every year," he says. "I never take anything for granted. We try and make the show better every year."
Contrary to what some past and present contestants may think, Simon says he never intends for his no-nonsense critiques to be nasty. "When you've got these unbelievably awful people coming in, I can't sit there like Paula and say, 'Well, here's a magic wand, and you'll all turn into Mariah Carey.' Because you're not," he says. "I try to give people good advice."
To succeed in the music business, Simon says singers need two things—talent and the ability to work hard. "Most of these people who come on our show, they've never done a day's work in their lives," he says. "They want to win a lottery ticket. And I go, 'Fine, if you want to do that, I'm going to criticize you occasionally.'"