LOS ANGELES (thefutoncritic.com) -- "'The X Factor' starts right here," Simon Cowell said as he signed his contract during FOX's executive session at the TCA Winter Press Tour.
"We reached an agreement formally about half past 10 this morning. That's the absolute truth," he explained prior to the signing. "And what we have come to, and what we've agreed, is that 'X Factor' will launch in America in 2011 with my judging the show and executive producing the show. Because of that, this will be my last season on 'American Idol' this year."
As for specifics, "X Factor" will launch in the fall of 2011 with an initial commitment of 40 hours between its performance and results shows. "Idol" will continue to air annually with a January start while "So You Think You Can Dance" will presumably bridge the two in the summer, essentially creating a year-round talent search for the network.
Not surprisingly, despite multiple queries, neither Cowell nor FOX chiefs Kevin Reilly and Peter Rice would speculate on how "Idol" will handle Cowell's departure or who will replace him. The group likewise was mum about potential judges/hosts for "Factor." (On Paula Abdul as an option: "I've gone on record - I adore Paula," Cowell said. "Whatever happens I will be working with her in some capacity. Because I miss her.")
So why isn't Cowell doing both? "When we looked at the practicalities of that it just was impossible," Cowell said. "I made a commitment to staying on the show in the U.K. And I didn't think it was right, also, for me to do two shows in America."
And what's going to differentiate "Idol" from "X Factor" beyond their names? "There's no upper age limit on this show. You could literally be 100 years old. So Paula could audition. [Laughs.] Groups can enter, singing groups, but the most important part of the show is the fact that the judges mentor a selection of contestants so once you've been given a category [boys, girls, over 25s or groups] you are responsible for everything that happens in the latter part of the competition. So you're responsible for their styling, their choreography, their choice of song, so essentially the judge is judged [as well]."
As for his "Idol" legacy, Cowell admitted "I want to leave 'Idol' this year bigger and better than it's been before, I genuinely do... I think - we've begun the auditions - it feels fresh, it feels relevant. We're all excited about going back onto the show and that's what I intend to do. I hope it's going to be higher than it was last year."
Cowell however wasn't the only major topic of the hour as Reilly addressed the Conan O'Brien situation. "There's unfortunately not too much more we can really illuminate on this. We're kind of digesting it the same way you are. We're literally just sort of in the wowee mode right now. So I think really this is going to come down to - our position on late-night has been consistent all along... we've been in and out of that business and it's never entirely off the agenda. That is something we're always looking at. So we've been consistent in that."
"I love Conan personally and professionally but right now he's got a decision to make about his future. And until he makes that decision there really is no conversation to be had. We have not pursued it. We talked to his people who we are in business with on multiple fronts, we talk to them all the time. So we've had some informal conversations mostly about commiserating about the situation... that's really all we can tell you on that front."
Lastly, Reilly confirmed "Glee's" second season pickup as well as a new multi-part special due this summer which will follow a nationwide search to find three new characters. "We decided to let the audience [be] a part of that. There will not be a formal voting, the audience will not decide but the audience will certainly participate. We're going to pull back the curtain on the process. They'll give us their feedback on who they want and who they like and then the finalists, the winners will in fact be revealed in the first episode of the season."
Reilly also revealed that they're considering shooting multiple versions of said scenes with each of the finalists to prevent leaks.