"American Idol" judge Simon Cowell says he's really doing singers a favor when he tells them they have no talent.

Meet Mr. Nasty

Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that British pop producer Simon Cowell is the judge on "American Idol" who has turned the ordinary insult into an art form.

But Cowell, 43, tells critics who accuse him of being mean to "Idol" wannabes that he's being kind "most of the time" on the Fox Television show.

"(Some contestants) are disillusioned," said the tart-tongued judge, one of three on the Fox TV show. "I'm just saying to people who have no talent, 'You have no talent.'"

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But isn't there a nicer way to telling a person he or she shouldn't quit their day job?

"No, because even if they worked for a million years they wouldn't have a career," Cowell said. "We see 70,000 people each time. And out of the 70,000 people, maybe 69,900 are never, ever, ever going to have a career in the music industry.

"I'm saying to all these people, 'Don't waste your time.' I'm actually the kind one. Because the Paula Abduls of this world would say, 'You're fantastic, take a few singing lessons, you'll become rich and famous overnight.' Believe me, they won't."

Cowell says the friendly side of his personality often is left on the editing floor.

"You're only seeing a smattering of me on the show and surprise, surprise, when we're doing the auditions the producers seem to just leave in the nasty comments rather than the nice ones," Cowell says in a phone interview from London.

"I think if you were seeing me over a full day, you would see me being much nicer than unpleasant. In fact, I think what I am is more sarcastic than mean."

So what are his suggestions to borderline contestants planning to audition tomorrow at Aloha Stadium?

"Don't, don't, don't, don't, don't," Cowell says quickly. "Don't bother showing up because you'll be disappointed. I'm warning you now."

Cowell is on a roll and wants to explain his theory of possible stardom.

"It doesn't make any difference if there's 9 million people auditioning next year; we'll only find, like, two good people because that's how it is," he said. "We have to find the top 10 because there has to be a top 10, but that doesn't necessarily mean the top 10 will be much good. I'm happy to find two decent people in that top 10."

As a reality show, "American Idol" is true to the genre, he said. "The reality is that 95 percent of the people who show up are useless. What the producers strive for is a slice of human reality. You're looking for that moment when someone realizes their dream is over, gone, finished.

"That's the fascination of 'American Idol.' "

Before "Idol" and its United Kingdom forerunner, "Pop Idol," Cowell made money, but presumably scored fewer phone numbers, as a behind-the-scenes music executive. The best thing about the exposure from "American Idol" is that network execs now take him seriously, Cowell said.

"Within the next 48 months, I fully expect to have two or three shows on the air. Definitely," he said.

"Idol" premiered on Fox on June 11 last year, en route to resurrecting nice judge Paula Abdul's fame quotient, establishing cool judge Randy Jackson's "Yo, dog" laid-back poise, and cementing nasty judge Cowell's reputation for bluntness.

This summer, Cowell signed a three-year, multimillion-dollar contract that has him back on the judge's bench for three more seasons. Fox is also helping him set up his production company, simcow ltd.

Money matters are murky, but reports put Simon's new paycheck around $150,000 an episode.

"It's not how much money you get, but how much you get back," Simon has said.

In 1979, with EMI Music Publishing, Cowell learned quickly what the public wants, a sense of commercial potential, and what makes a hit. He then set up his own label, Fanfare, with partner Ian Burton.

By 1989 BMG had offered Simon a position as A&R consultant, a relationship that would prove hugely successful, profitable and enduring.

Cowell's roster of signing reads like a who's who of pop success stories over the last decade: Curiosity Killed the Cat, Sonia and Westlife. In the last 10 years, Cowell has achieved sales of more than 25 million albums, more than 70 top 30 records and 17 No. 1 singles.

Cowell is quick to say what he's looking for as a judge of talent: "Individuality."

"God, we have so many people who try to copy Christina, or Mariah or Michael Jackson," he says. "Isn't one of each enough?

"I'm looking for someone who is different. My objective is finding someone who is good and you can't compare them to someone else."

Despite having two "American Idol" seasons under his belt, Cowell said he is "constantly stunned" by the number of people who audition and have "absolutely no talent."

"It's simply amazing," he said. "When I ask them if they actually hear themselves singing out of the key they say, 'No,' or when I say they sound dreadful they say, 'No I don't.'

"It's a quest for 15 minutes of fame at any cost. What we should be calling this show is 'American Idol III: The Disillusion.'"

So if it's so maddening, why does Cowell do it?

"I wouldn't be doing this unless I were able to sign these people up to my record label; I own all the recording rights worldwide," he said. "What would be the point to sit through all these horrors without getting something out of it in the end?

"Oh, and the money is good."

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