Relentlessly honest American Idol judge Simon Phillip Cowell (1959-) was born on this day in Elstree, a small town about 20 miles north of London, England.
The son of a properous real estate developer, Cowell said of his childhood, "We had no McDonald's, no color television, and luckily no Paula Abdul."
Cowell started his career in the mailroom of EMI Music Publishing in 1979. "In many ways, I was glad that I had started my career on the very low rung of the business. It was there that I learned how to deal with people."
With an instinct for what makes music popular, Cowell worked his way up, becoming a successful record producer with his own label, Fanfare, and as an executive with BMG Records.
"From the mailroom, I had come a long way," Cowell explained in his 2003 autobiography. "I had more than 80 million albums to my credit, some 30 number one singles, and a hundred Top 30 singles. But still one thing eluded me. I wanted to have a career in the United States."
In February 2001, he and Simon Fuller, the former manager of The Spice Girls, developed Pop Idol for British television. The show was a huge hit and gave birth to the U.S. verision, American Idol, in the summer of 2002.
"The thing about American Idol is that you can't cheat it. And we haven't got a clue what's going to happen," he said. "It's a bit like the lions and the Christians, this show. Thumbs-up or thumbs-down. Look, people love to see people fall apart on TV."
Making pop culture history with the caustic put-downs that he called "constructive criticism," Cowell is also honest about his own strengths and weaknesses:
"I am a hedonist at heart. I love the uncertainty and the challenge. I'm also exceptionally competitive and ambitious. It is relentless, relentless, relentless. I can't help it. Sometimes I'm glad, sometimes I wish I wasn't like that all the time. I can never switch off. "
Be honest, be kind.