Simon Cowell, the acerbic Brit who has helped give "American Idol" some of its sharpest — and nastiest — moments, will leave the hit TV singing contest after this season.
The cantankerous judge said Monday that "The X Factor," a talent show he created and which is popular in Britain, will join Fox's schedule next year. Cowell will be a judge on "The X Factor" and its executive producer.
Cowell's decision is the biggest threat yet to what has consistently been the country's top-rated TV program and a true cultural force. This season, original host Paula Abdul has been replaced by Ellen DeGeneres. But Cowell, with his caustic commentary, has long been seen as the big star of "Idol." He said it would have been difficult for him to do both shows.
While he makes a reported $36 million a year to be on "American Idol," he owns "The X Factor" and could make much more if the show takes off.
Ironically, "The X Factor" led to a lawsuit several years ago between Cowell and "American Idol" creator Simon Fuller, who alleged that Cowell copied the format for the British version of "The X Factor" from the original British "Idol." The suit was settled amicably.
Cowell and top Fox executives made the announcement to reporters in Pasadena at a meeting of the Television Critics Association; they said they had reached an agreement only a few hours before.
"I was offered a lot of money to stay on," Cowell said. "But that wasn't the reason behind it. I wanted to do something different. I wanted a new challenge."
But an even greater challenge is posed for Idol producers. Without the show's biggest attraction and most critical judge, will "American Idol" lose steam and plunge even more in ratings?