Why pop's hitman Simon Cowell had to terminate his star protégé Cheryl Cole

In British TV Simon Cowell's word is law. But in the US a higher power exists – as Cheryl Cole has just found out

If Cheryl Cole's towering bouffant was a little deflated yesterday when her reign as a judge on the US version of The X Factor came to a brutal conclusion after two short weeks, she can take consolation in the fate of another talent show judge.

Kelly Brook, the television presenter, lasted just six days when Simon Cowell chose her as the new star face of Britain's Got Talent, his other entertainment juggernaut.

These defenestrations demonstrate that when the ruthless music mogul decides the show must go on, but without one of his star protégés, the end is usually swift.

On this occasion, however, Cowell, even with his £200m wealth, had to bow to a higher power – Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corporation owns the Fox network. Executives concluded that Cole's performance in early auditions were not strong enough to deliver the ratings required for such a high-profile show.

It's an embarrassment for Cowell who pushed Cole's claim to be the face of the new show, brushing aside concerns over the Geordie star's accent and her limited US profile.

Fox, which is charging US advertisers $400,000 for a 30-second spot on The X Factor on the understanding that it will replicate the huge success of American Idol, gave Cowell his wish.

When Cole arrived in Los Angeles, however, she discovered she was a makeweight on the all-star line-up, which included Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger, record producer Antonio "L A" Reid and singer-choreographer Paula Abdul.

The chemistry between Cowell and Abdul, whose partnership helped make American Idol a Fox hit, resumed during the early auditions. Cowell reportedly favoured Abdul over Cole at a photo-shoot, awarded her the plum seat next to his on the panel and began interrupting Cole on camera.

Cowell tried to sell Cole to a sceptical US media as a "style icon". But that claim was undermined when her "big hair" was mocked at a photo-shoot. "It was the equivalent of her using five gallons of hairspray and then standing in the middle of a hurricane," Cowell said.

Cole, used to admiring coverage from British tabloids and glossy magazines, was now the "Wookie rookie", following comparisons to the Star Wars character Chewbacca. Cowell ordered new LA stylists for Cole, who was said to be feeling "homesick".

Fox executives and Cowell reviewed the tapes of the auditions. Cole's accent would be an issue until she was established in the show but, more seriously, the "sparky" chemistry that Cowell promised she would generate as a judge wasn't there. Cole was deemed the "weakest link".

The game was almost up when Fox released a 90-second promo film for the show, which relegated Cole, captioned as a "platinum-selling artist", to a non-speaking role. Cowell, who hoped he could build a "dream team" out of Abdul and Cole, accepted defeat.

"X Factor is about establishing Fox as the No 1 US network among 18- to 49-year-olds," said a broadcasting source. "Pepsi has signed a $60m deal and they are taking the show to sponsors. They can't take risks, they have to give American viewers the personalities they expect to see. It's the Simon and Paula show."

Dannii Minogue, who headed towards the UK X Factor exit after the producers declined to work around her travel commitments, offered her sympathies to Cole, tweeting: "Judging roles should come with a life jacket, drop down oxygen and a life raft."

Usually it's Cowell who holds all the cards. Piers Morgan, who owes his US television career to Cowell's patronage, understands the deal. "It's his train set – I'm just the driver," admitted the former newspaper editor, who was elevated to a judging seat on America's Got Talent. "Simon could get rid of us anytime he wants."

Cole, seamlessly replaced as a judge by co-host Scherzinger, has already given up her slot on the UK X Factor. She had also hoped to use the show to launch an assault on the US charts. She could now be a BBC target to star in The Voice, a new singing show which the Corporation is expected to launch.

Her departure may not help Steve Jones, the Welsh former Channel 4 presenter who was a surprise choice to co-host the US X Factor. Jones got the role after demonstrating his rapport with Cole during auditions.

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